PARIS -- The planned renovation of Roland Garros is on hold after Paris city council allowed a new study of the land use on Wednesday.
Supported by local residents and environmentalists at the city council, a new project offers an alternative to the controversial expansion that is scheduled to be completed in 2017.
Environmental groups claim the construction of a new 5,000-seat court at the Serres d'Auteuil botanical garden would harm the vegetation and have been trying to stop it since its inception. The botanical garden's 19th century greenhouses, a few hundred meters from Court Philippe Chatrier, host a large variety of tropical and local flowers.
The home of the French Open also wants to build a retractable roof over the center court by 2019, but no expansion work will be initiated until the new study is achieved, following Wednesday's vote.
The Roland Garros plans have been controversial from the start, after the French Tennis Federation decided five years ago to keep the clay-court major there and renovate the existing site, rather than moving the tournament. In 2013, a French tribunal suspended the plans for a few months before the Administrative Court of Paris' appeals court allowed the federation to expand into the Serres d'Auteuil.
The extension of Roland Garros is crucial for French tennis officials, who fear a project failure could lead to the relocation of the Grand Slam to another country.
Roland Garros is the smallest of the four Grand Slam venues. Plans call for an extension of the site from 21 acres (8½ hectares) to about 34 acres (13½ hectares).
The alternative project, which comprises the partial roofing of a nearby motorway where outside courts would be built, enjoys the support of Ecology Minister Segolene Royal, the former partner of French President Francois Hollande, while Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo are behind the initial plans promoted by the tennis federation.
Opponents to the alternative solution argue that the construction and refurbishment work could not be finished on time for the 2024 Olympics if the French capital decides to bid.