By E.J. Crawford
The US Open has a long tradition of marrying history with innovation, naming its facility for Billie Jean King and its showpiece stadium for Arthur Ashe all while breaking new ground in tennis with equal prize money, night tennis, blue courts and instant replay.
The US Open’s latest endeavor is its grandest yet: a sweeping transformation of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that will create a new Louis Armstrong Stadium, a new Grandstand, wider walkways and improved traffic flow around the grounds and a retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Taken as a whole, the plan will remake the 132-year-old tournament, revitalizing its appearance and enhancing its standing as one of the great sports and entertainment spectaculars in the world.
“This transformation will make the US Open more accessible to more fans, creating a spectacular facility that will mirror the energy and excitement of New York and provide an enhanced player and fan experience,” USTA Chairman, President and CEO Dave Haggerty said during a press conference Thursday to announce the plans. “When all the pieces are in place, the National Tennis Center will be among the most fan-friendly, technologically advanced facilities in the world of sports – a leader for the 21st century and beyond.”
The total cost for the transformation is estimated at $550 million, including for the retractable roof, which is estimated in excess of $100 million. As it has done in the past, the USTA will self-finance the entire cost of the improvements through a combination of bonds and USTA revenue generation; no public funds will be utilized.
The retractable roof is being designed by ROSSETTI, the designer and architect of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and the USTA has hired Hunt Construction Group to build the retractable roof structure. As designed, the retractable roof will be constructed of flexible, translucent PTFE fabric stretched over a steel frame that will be supported by eight steel columns surrounding Arthur Ashe Stadium.
In addition to the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, the key pieces of the transformation are building a new Louis Armstrong Stadium in its current location; razing the current Grandstand and shifting its location from the northeast corner to the southwest corner of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to better distribute fan traffic throughout the facility; and moving some of the field courts farther to the south in order to create a wider pedestrian walkway that will connect the new Grandstand to Court 17, which is located in the southeast corner of the grounds.
Construction will begin at the conclusion of the 2013 US Open, with the completion of the retractable roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium scheduled for August 2017 and the goal for the overall completion of the project slated for 2018. The first stadium to be completed is the Grandstand, planned for 2015.
Once the transformation is complete, the grounds will be able to accommodate an additional 10,000 people per day, increasing overall annual attendance by approximately 100,000 and providing an economic boost to the local community.
"The US Open is a world-class event that demands a world-class venue, [and] we’re going to transform the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the fans,” said Gordon Smith, USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, adding, “We’re really proud to be a good neighbor of the Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, the borough of Queens and the City of New York, delivering over $750,000,000 in economic impact each year to this city, our home.
"To sum it up, it’s great for everyone involved, and it’s great for tennis.”