For the last decade, Sportime Clubs, LLC has been working on a plan for the expansion of its Randall’s Island facility, the flagship home of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy and the largest indoor tennis facility in NYC. When completed in the fall of 2023, Sportime believes that the expanded and upgraded facility will be the largest indoor club and academy in the world.
“We have been working on this project for almost 10 years now, including a two-year delay caused by the pandemic, so it was definitely not fast or easy to get to this point,” said Ben Schlansky, the Vice President of Sportime Clubs and the Senior Managing Director of Randall’s Island and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. “But we were lucky and relieved to be able to restart the expansion project this past spring. Our challenge, once approvals and agreements were finalized, was and is to execute a $40 million expansion of one of the busiest urban tennis facilities in the world, while never closing it, and while only losing courts for one outdoor season, which turned out to be this summer. So far, we remain right on schedule.”
The referenced approvals and agreements included an extension of Sportime’s license with NYC, under which it operates the Randall’s Island facility, now until at least 2049, and which allowed for construction to begin this past May.
The club’s 10 existing Har-Tru courts, and the area to the east of them, became a construction zone for the first part of the expansion, and this fall those 10 courts will be replaced with 14 Har-Tru, soft courts in two brand new air-structures, equipped with all the latest technology.
Seven of those new courts will remain in an insulated, air-conditioned, climate-controlled air-structure throughout the year, which bubble will also feature translucent skylights for natural lighting during daytime hours.
The other seven new soft courts will be Har-Tru HyQ courts, the latest technology in sub-surface irrigation, which saves water, while keeping the courts perfectly hydrated in all conditions, both indoors and out. Those courts will be housed inside a new, translucent air-structure during the indoor season, and will be outdoors and lighted for evening play, with new LED, stadium-quality lighting, during the outdoor season.
The construction doesn’t stop there, as work will continue throughout the 2022-2023 season, with the club, which will offer 24 courts for the upcoming indoor season, remaining fully operational. By September, 2023, a new permanent building on the easternmost edge of the Sportime campus will be unveiled, and will house six new, oversized, air-conditioned, hard courts, bringing the total number of courts to 30. Also within the new building will be a dedicated, clear-span, fitness training space.
Air conditioning will be added to the existing hard court building to the west of the main clubhouse, which houses five hard courts. More improvements will include a new, two-story, secondary clubhouse building with viewing both into the new Har-Tru courts and into the six new hard courts and fitness area. There will also be four new outdoor Under-10 red ball courts, accessible to park users, with the goal of creating a welcoming environment for New York City’s newest and youngest tennis players.
“Our dream was to build the largest and best indoor club and academy facility in the world, here in New York City, right down the road from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the U.S. Open, and to have this great facility be the flagship site of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, which has been running at Randall’s Island since 2010,” said Claude Okin, President & CEO of Sportime Clubs. “We believe that we will have achieved those goals when the expanded facility is complete. Sportime will have raised, and invested more than $60 million into our NYC facility, and in partnership with the 501(c)(3) Johnny Mac Tennis Project, will now be able to bring free tennis to thousands of NYC school kids each week, and to provide millions more each year in scholarships to under-resourced NYC kids who want to change their lives through tennis.”
Sportime’s expanded pledge to provide free tennis to so many kids from in and around New York City, which will not only help to grow the sport, but also directly impact young lives, is what makes all this extra special for Okin.
“Having turned 60 this year, and having, myself, been a NYC kid who could not afford to play tennis year-round growing up in our City, I am really proud that we got this done,” he said. “I believe that Sportime Randall’s Island is truly a gift to NYC and to the game that we love.”
The overall expansion project does not stop at increasing the total number of courts by 50%; it also seeks to upgrade and improve all of the existing facilities and structures. There will be new VRF HVAC systems throughout the existing clubhouse, and the new clubhouse, providing high-efficiency “green” climate control: both state-of-the-art and environmentally-friendly.
Expanded and upgraded locker rooms, new public restrooms, reconfigured offices, larger viewing areas, and a new outdoor terrace and central courtyard, are all part of the planned upgrades.
“The expansion includes many new and upgraded facilities, including new outdoor lighting, sub-irrigated soft courts, and, maybe most important to our players, 18 permanent indoor courts that will be fully air-conditioned, and climate and humidity-controlled year-round,” added Schlansky. “We thank our players, members and students for their patience and flexibility, and we thank all of the hard-working staff members and professionals that are helping us to manage this process on schedule.”
All of this will be the culmination of a more than decade-long dream, since Randall’s Island first opened to the public in the summer of 2009.
“One of our goals has always been to use tennis as a means through which we can positively impact the lives of New York City residents, and especially kids. Since we find ourselves in the middle of a surge in tennis participation, the timing could not be better,” explains Okin.
“It’s a team effort, and we have a big and experienced team, and one of the things that drives us each day is to make John and Patrick [McEnroe] proud,” said Okin. “I know that they both love this facility, where they spend so much time. Once JMTA launched in 2010, I had a personal sense of the opportunity to have an impact on the tennis culture of the City where I was born and raised, and where I learned to play tennis in the parks and later through my work in the industry, and I wanted to do as much as possible. What I didn’t imagine is that the pandemic would drive another “tennis boom”, as folks took up and returned to tennis, and how much those new and returning players would love the game. So I am proud of it all, and I also feel lucky that this is a good time for our sport and that we are expanding to meet demand from a new generation. That is just cool and happy timing.”
It continues to be an exciting period for tennis both locally and nationally, and by this time next year, New York City’s largest and newest tennis facility will be fully operational.
“I am more than excited to be a part of Sportime’s expansion of its tennis facility on Randall’s Island in NYC, the flagship location of my Academy,” said John McEnroe. “We believe that ours will be the largest indoor training facility in the world, with 30 courts during the indoor season, and with state-of-the-art features befitting my hometown of New York City, the greatest city in the world!”