CLAREMONT — The world’s next tennis superstar could come from the South Bronx thanks to a $26.5 million arena set to open next month in Crotona Park.
The Cary Leeds Center for Tennis and Learning — built with the support of legendary tennis player Billie Jean King, the group New York Junior Tennis and Learning and the Parks Department — is scheduled to officially open on June 15 with 20 reconstructed courts and a two-story, 12,000-square-foot clubhouse for educational and community activities.
Half of the courts are outdoors, while the other half are covered for people to use all year, and two additional stadium courts that will have room for 1,000 tennis fans are scheduled to be finished in 2016.
“Clearly, this is one of the biggest and best gifts we’ve had in The Bronx in any number of recent years,” said Chief of Operations for Bronx Parks Larry Scoones, who described it as the largest tennis facility in the borough.
The facility, named after the top-ranked tennis player Cary Leeds, who died in 2003, and located along Crotona Avenue by Indian Lake, will include a library, study centers and classroom space for students to receive services like tutoring, homework help and college readiness courses.
The lower level of the clubhouse will be named after King, whose Women's Sports Foundation has been a huge supporter of the tennis complex, and space will also be available for neighborhood organizations to use, according to NYJTL President and CEO Deborah Antoine.
"We would welcome the community board and other community groups to actually use our space for some of their meetings," she said.
NYJTL was founded in 1971 by tennis star Arthur Ashe and others, and the group wanted to include academic space in its new tennis center in keeping with its goal of helping children become successful adults, not just good tennis players.
"This is part of our enduring mission, which started 44 years ago with Arthur Ashe, who believed that tennis was a vehicle to transform lives," Antoine said.
The tennis center will offer programs for adults as well as youths, including private lessons, group lessons and league competitions, and it will host local, national and international tournaments that officials hope will help bring more tourism to The Bronx.
Over the coming year, the center is on track to host 16 USTA sanctioned tournaments, as well as an international tournament in the summer of 2016 once the stadium courts are complete, according to Antoine.
Architect Peter Gluck, whose company GLUCK+ designed the center, said he would like to see it bring more activity to Crotona Park, which he described as beautiful but largely unnoticed.
“It is an absolutely exquisite park that most people don’t know anything about,” he said. “You don’t say on a sunny afternoon, ‘Oh I’ve got an idea. Let’s go to the South Bronx, and let’s go to the park.’”
The center will provide 6,000 hours of free tennis and academic programming for New York City children throughout the year, and the courts will be available for rental when kids are not using them.
NYJTL is still working out the specific fees for court use, but they generally fall between $30 an hour and $90 an hour for premium court time, which is typically midday on weekends, according to Antoine.
Abiodun Bello, founder of the Crotona Park Running Club, was enthusiastic about the Cary Leeds Center, as said it would bring more people to Crotona Park and help pump some money into the community.
He plans to use the center himself, although he stressed that he would not make a particularly formidable opponent.
"I’m not good playing tennis," he said, "but I can play with a friend."