US Open to have roof by 2017

NEW YORK -- A retractable roof will be built over Arthur Ashe Stadium, the USTA announced Thursday at a news conference highlighting planned transformations for the home of the US Open.

The transformations to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center will also include two new stadiums, and the schedule aims for all transformations to be completed by the 2018 US Open.

"This is great for everybody involved," USTA executive director Gordon Smith said. "It's great for the US Open. It's great for the city of New York. But for us, it's great for tennis."

The transformations are expected to cost about $550 million, and the retractable roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium will cost more than $100 million. It will be funded by the UTSA through bonds and revenue generations. The schedule calls for the retractable roof by 2016, at the earliest, and no later than 2017.

"We're not going to pay for this on the backs of our ticket holders," Smith said. "That's not one of the funding mechanisms that we're looking at."

Before the transformation can begin, it will have to go through a process, according to USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center COO Daniel Zausner. It starts with Department of Parks and Recreation, before an application can be submitted to the Public Design Commission. From there, it goes to the Department of Buildings to get permits to build. The early phases could begin as soon as October.

"If we could get all our ducks in a row, the permits and everything approved within the city structure, there's the potential that we could start doing some of the seed work, the preliminary work, on our roof as early as spring 2014, or at the least, spring of 2015," Zausner said.

The construction of the roof highlights the wide-ranging changes in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Implementing a roof has been discussed for the past 10 years, as rain has wrecked havoc on the men's schedule lately, as the past five men's finals have been postponed to Monday.

Zausner said there were four different studies done to try and find how they could create a retractable roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium. The organization aimed to meet four goals with the roof: structurally and financially feasible, workable, and aesthetically pleasing.

The retractable roof is being designed by ROSSETTI, and the Hunt Construction group will build it. One of the biggest issues over the past decade in designing the roof was finding a way to make it work on the rough soil conditions on the site. The retractable roof will be supported by eight columns surrounding Arthur Ashe Stadium, and it will need two US Open periods to build.

"Ultimately what you see today realized is the solution that mitigates the bulk of the risk, the bulk of the complications," said Matt Rossetti, the designer of the roof. "And at the same time, creates an elegant structure that is not only in keeping with the vernacular and the architectural language of Ashe, but it sets a precedent, a strong vision for future structures on campus."

The roof will be made of PTFE fabric, which Rossetti described as a Teflon coating. There will be an expansive gutter system, and it will also host air conditioning units. The roof will be 15 feet above the highest seat, allowing for ventilation. It's expected to open and close in five to seven minutes.

"This will not impact our ability to keep growing this event," Zausner said. "This can only help our event 24/7 during the US Open. This roof will probably be closed during the offseason, something we weren't able to do with a lot of the other roofs we looked at. Couldn't support the weight in the past. This one roof can support the weight, so this will help us maintain this building."

Other changes coming to Flushing Meadows will include the construction of new Grandstand and Louis Armstrong Stadiums. The Grandstand Stadium will be upgraded to 8,000 seats, as the current one holds 6,000 fans. Zausner hopes to start construction after the 2014 US Open, and it's expected to be ready by 2015 at the earliest, 2016 at the latest. There has been a roof considered for the Grandstand Stadium, but it is not part of the plan at the moment.

The Louis Armstrong Stadium will hold 15,000 fans, an increase from the 10,500 it currently holds. It too will come with a roof, although the final design has not been set, and the hope is that it will be completed by 2018. It will be built over two US Open periods. The design for the roof should be come in the next 12 to 18 months.

The USTA is also aiming to make the event more fan friendly by shifting around practice and tournament courts, and also building new ones. The aim for the practice courts and three new tournament courts is in time for the 2014 US Open, according to Zausner.

By shifting around the courts, it will allow more fans to watch the practice sessions, something the fans have clamored for, and better spacing in the walkways. There will also be a new food court, merchandise spots and sponsor booths, as well as upgrades to the East Entrance.

"We've got to make sure that the jewel is polished and it's the best it can be," USTA chairman of the board Dave Haggerty said.

It's expected that these transformations will bring an extra 10,000 people each day during the US Open, which would bring approximately 100,000 extra visitors. Smith said the some of the transformation's projected increased revenue will go back into the local community.

"Part of this process is for us to reconnect in a better way to the park and the neighborhoods," Smith said. "And we have committed upfront funding for some capital projects and ongoing funding to be part of a conservancy to be created to ensure a better future for Flushing Meadows Park."

The addition of the retractable roof allows the US Open to keep up with its fellow Grand Slam partners, as it was the only one that didn't have a roof or have one in the works.

"Tennis is perhaps the most international of all sports," Smith said. "We have our Grand Slam partners to compete with and they raise the bar every year on facilities and on fan experience."