| By New York Tennis Magazine Staff
The new look exterior of Roosevelt Island Racquet Club.

 

Over the last few months, Roosevelt Island Racquet Club (RIRC) in Manhattan has undergone a makeover. The prominent 12-court tennis facility, situated in the middle of the East River below the Queensborough Bridge, has recently implemented a series of upgrades and renovations.

“The Club was built more than 25 years ago, and there was a specific time frame on how long everything would last,” said Steve O’Keefe, Roosevelt Island Racquet Club’s general manager. “So, we were at the point where it was due for an upgrade based upon that. With the environment that the Club is in, right near the bridge, there is a lot of salt water and bridge access, so it was time for a complete overhaul of the facilities.”

That overhaul included a number of design and structural changes to the clubhouse building in order to bring it up-to-date with the changing landscape of Roosevelt Island itself. With modern construction taking place throughout the Island, including the newly-built Bloomberg Academic Center and the Graduate Hotel and the Verizon Conference Center currently under construction, elevating the architecture of the tennis club was a must.

“Roosevelt Island, in the last five years, has been dramatically transformed from a sleepy bedroom village serving United Nations, New York Presbyterian, Cornell Medical and Memorial Sloane Kettering employees, and many retired senior citizens, into a major destination for tourists and hi-tech geniuses,” said Skip Hartman, owner of Advantage Tennis Clubs, which Roosevelt Island Racquet Club is a part of. “Smack in the middle of all of this is the Racquet Club. Our business has been very good and is getting even better. We felt we owed it to both our neighbors and our customers to give them a modern, refurbished clubhouse with a look that would keep up with the times and do justice to the quality of their experience inside the Club.”

 

As a part of that new design, the Club has added a sleek exterior of Trespa panels to avoid rusting, a grander entry, new landscaping and a completely new infrastructure designed to last for the next half-century.

But a quick exterior fix wasn’t all. The renovations also included enhancing the tennis-playing experience inside the Club, with a conversion to top-of-the line LED lighting over the courts, and an upgrade to the HVAC system to maintain that the courts and clubhouse remain comfortable throughout all seasons.

“We put a large emphasis on upgrading our playing surface as well, and we wanted to focus on providing the best clay court surface in New York City,” said O’Keefe. “We spent a great deal of time and energy on the playing environment of the Club. It’s not just the infrastructure; it’s also making sure that our members have the best possible environment to play in.”

The playing experience inside RIRC has always been at the heart of the success of the Club and the loyalty of its membership—from the junior program all the way through to the adult programming. O’Keefe, the current general manager, is a former college player who came to Roosevelt Island with more than two decades experience in the industry, and he has helped to foster a winning culture at the Club. 

The junior program is anchored by Xavier Luna, a leading tennis coach who runs the Junior Tennis Programs at all three of the Advantage Tennis facilities, which also includes Manhattan Plaza and New York Tennis Club. Under Luna’s direction, the junior program has ballooned to more than 400 kids, and the adult program, directed by Mark Santucci, has upwards of 500 people in it on any given week.

“We can attribute that to the fact that we’ve hired some great coaches in the last couple of years, and have a really strong continuing education program,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve made a concerted effort to continually improve our teaching program. That includes hiring the best staff we can, and constantly educating our coaches on a regular basis. That’s something that we feel is incredibly important to the growth of our program. And we’ve seen that growth in both the junior and adult programs.” 

Between the constantly-improving tennis experience inside the Club and the modernized renovations that have taken place over the last few years, Roosevelt Island Racquet Club is ready to continue growing into the next months, years and decades.

It is one of the most unique tennis clubs in a city full of its diversity, just a short walk from the F-Train, and is accessible both via the tram and the ferry, which allows it to pull members from Manhattan across the river, as well as Roosevelt Island and nearby Long Island City.

“As Long Island City has grown, we’ve been drawing more and more from there. We draw from Manhattan, as well as Roosevelt Island of course,” said O’Keefe. “This allows us to be competitive with the nicest clubs in the City, and our goal is to stay relevant in the competitive New York City market. In fact, with the new Q train going to the Upper East Side, it’s easier to get to Roosevelt Island than ever before with all the different transportation options. Getting here is easier than it’s ever been.”

And as Roosevelt Island consistently modernizes and improves, the tennis club that bears its name plans to as well.

“Tourists and students flock to the Island daily, mainly taking the tram, which has also been modernized with more weather protection at each station and reduced travel time,” said Hartman. “The Club has always done great work in game arranging, and running our junior and adult programs. The staff is first-rate, and truly cares about both our member and non-member customers alike. We are lucky to have them.”