Golden Gate Park

Operator Chosen to Run New Tennis Center in GG Park

By Meyer Gorelick

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department commissioners voted unanimously on Nov. 21 to authorize Lifetime Activities to handle day-to-day operations of the tennis center being renovated in Golden Gate Park.

Workers broke ground in April, 2019 on the $27 million Golden Gate Tennis Center (GGTC), a rebuild of the 125-year-old facility – where women’s tennis pioneers and hall-of-famers Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals once played – into one of the premier public tennis complexes in the U.S.

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The Tennis Center in Golden Gate Park is under construction, seen here in November, 2019. The new center is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020. Photo by Olivia Lewman.

The project is spearheaded by a three-pronged collaboration between the Tennis Coalition of San Francisco (TCSF), the San Francisco Parks Alliance (SFPA) and Rec. and Park. Most of the funding was raised via private donations, while $4.5 million came from the 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. 

Set to open in fall of 2020, two seasons later than the initial winter projection, GGTC will include 17 new USTA-regulation tennis courts, a dedicated pickleball court, a sunken feature court that seats 180 spectators and a 7,800-square-foot clubhouse. Lights will allow an additional 20,000 hours of evening play time each year.

Lifetime Activities will pay Rec. and Park either 5 percent of gross receipts or a minimum of $500,000 by the end of its eight-year contract. Ninety percent of this money will go towards maintenance of GGTC while 10 percent will go toward the TLC transportation fund. If there is an excess of $500,000, 25 percent of the additional funds will be put in the maintenance fund, 25 percent will go to TLC transportation and the remaining 50 percent will go to Rec. and Park.

Local legend and former professional tennis player Peanut Louie Harper told The San Francisco Chronicle how the courts helped her develop her game.

“There were so many kids to play with — that was probably the biggest help to my tennis career at that time,” Harper said. “Visiting players would come and play, and they would say, ‘How can you practice with the bongo drummers playing at Hippie Hill?’ That was a great training ground for being able to block out the distractions and concentrate.”

The center will house an expansion of Rec. and Park’s Tennis and Learning Center (TLC), which currently provides elementary school tennis programs in four of San Francisco’s most underserved neighborhoods. TLC currently works with about 100 youths. 

There will be a TLC classroom in the clubhouse where 60-80 middle school “graduates” of the elementary programs will continue receiving academic tutoring and tennis instruction.

U.S. women’s tennis star Sloane Stephens, winner of the 2017 U.S. Open, spoke at a TLC event on Nov. 15.

“I see myself in the TLC kids because I know firsthand how tennis contributes to success off the court,” Stephens said. “There is no better training in problem solving, concentration and playing fairly. You get good at winning, but more importantly, you learn that failing is just part of learning. I am so excited that they will continue to develop their potential at a world-class tennis facility starting next year.”

Concerns were raised in February, 2018 to the Chronicle that the courts will be run as a for-profit business at the expense of community members who want to use the facility.

“The coalition is talking about bringing in a for-profit operator, which means a profit motive will run the tennis courts,” John Melvin, a senior and regular player at the old facility told the Chronicle. “If you run them for profit, things like lessons and tournaments will take priority. Virtually all of our players are over 65. Seniors need exercise.”

Dana Ketcham, Director of Permits and Property Management at Rec. and Park emphasized that since the initial proposal to contract out the operation of GGTC, the two formal dissenting voices against the arrangement with Lifetime Activities have withdrawn their objections.

“We have established an online reservation system that allows people to go online and find other courts that are available for play if there is a tournament going on at the tennis center,” Ketcham said.

Ketcham also said that if there are concerns, people can bring them to the Tennis Center Advisory Committee (TCAC) which will include members of TCSF, SFPA, residents who demonstrate an interest in the betterment of tennis and at least one member over the age of 60 and one under the age of 18.

Rates for hour-long reservations can be found online at the Rec. and Park website.

Most of the $27 million for the renovation was raised via gifts from Taube Philanthropies, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, the Koret Foundation, Jackie and Joby Pritzker and an anonymous donor, according to Rec. and Park.

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