French Open unveils renovation plans

PARIS -- French Open officials say they're moving ahead with plans to build a retractable roof over center court and add night sessions there, despite a court ruling last month that put the project on hold.

The tournament on Saturday unveiled details of the $440 million project, which also include a new 4,850-seat show court and redesigned outer courts.

The city and French Tennis Federation are appealing an April 1 decision by the Administrative Court of Paris, which blocked the plan and sided with local residents who complained it could harm a nearby botanical garden. A ruling on the appeal could be months away, but the city and federation recently reached a new agreement to proceed.

"Our project is still alive and moving on," tournament director Gilbert Ysern said. "We are in a gorgeous place that is part of Paris, and it bears a lot of history. All of this is 100 percent respected in our project, so we don't see why and how in the end we could not be allowed to develop that."

The federation plans to pay for all but $26 million of the costs, with the city covering the remainder, and building permits are to be filed in two months. Construction would begin in 2015, and the final phase would involve the installation of the roof in 2018.

"We need to protect everything that helps Paris to be a worldwide city," said Anne Hidalgo, first deputy mayor of Paris. "So we need to help the tournament develop. We need to make the urban planning changes that are necessary for the French Open to be able to expand."

The renovation of Roland Garros has drawn opposition from the start. The federation voted in 2011 to keep the French Opech there and alter the existing site rather than move the tournament.

Located at the western edge of Paris, Roland Garros is the smallest of the four Grand Slam venues, and the renovation would add 13,000 square feet for the public. Much of the expansion would take place in the botanical garden, where a new court -- the third-largest on the site -- would open in 2017 and be surrounded by greenhouses on all four sides.

Cozy Court 1, known as the bullring, would be demolished and replaced with three acres of green space.

Wimbledon and the Australian Open have retractable covers on their largest courts, while the French Open and U.S. Open do not. A roof at Roland Garros would provide protection from Paris' frequent spring showers and allow the French Open to schedule night sessions, as the Australian Open and U.S. Open do.

"We don't want to finish very late in the night. We are not going to do like our American friends with the night sessions starting late and sometimes never ending," Ysern said with a smile. "But we do indeed want to have a dedicated night session."