For the area's die-hard tennis players, the folks who can mix it up at the quality tournament level, some of Wichita's courts are in sorry shape.
The courts are so bad that Wichita is in danger of losing some of the sanctioned tournaments it has and failing to attracting others, say those in the tennis community.
The city's Park and Recreation Department agrees and plans to spend $500,000 in the coming months to fix cracks, resurface courts and repair broken fences and nets.
The City Council voted 7-0 today to allow the department to latch onto money budgeted for 2012 — $250,000 to be specific — to help make that happen.
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The money will be put with an identical $250,000 budgeted in 2010 for the work. City policy requires a department to get special permission from the council before spending money that is more than two years out in the long-term budget, Park and Recreation Director Doug Kupper said.
Work will be done at Ralph Wulz Riverside Tennis Center and the courts at Edgemoor and McAdams parks. Those three are the most often used by tournaments and events sanctioned by the U.S. Tennis Association and the Missouri Valley Tennis Association because they have six to 13 courts.
"Most of the courts are playable," Kupper said, "but not for the hard cores."
Simon Norman, a Wichita tennis professional and tennis director at Genesis Health Clubs on North Rock Road, said the surface at many of the 10 outdoor courts at Riverside are so worn that they are slick.
"It doesn't make for particularly good tennis when courts get that smooth and fast," he said. "The courts also have cracks."
Norman said the Missouri Valley has said it wouldn't sanction tournaments for Riverside if the courts aren't resurfaced.
Depending on the size of the cracks, Kupper said it costs $5,000 to $8,000 to repair each court.
Cracks aren't the main problem for the eight courts at Edgemoor. Knocked down nets and fences are.
More specifically, Norman said, skateboarders have created a problem.
"We can't even use Edgemoor anymore (for tournaments) because it's so bad," Norman said. "Since the city put that skateboard park in there, those guys are skateboarding on the courts and over the nets.
"The fences get pushed down, people sit on the nets and break them. It's just wear and tear where people aren't respectful of the facility."
But Kupper said that's old damage. He said the Edgemoor skateboard park was opened in 2007 to keep skateboarders from abusing the courts.
"It used to be a problem," Kupper said, "but it's not anymore. That's past damage. We haven't had a chance to fix it."
He said Edgemoor courts will also have to be resurfaced because they were damaged by skateboarders going across them.
"We want to get it back in shape and attractive again," Kupper said.
McAdams' six courts are in better shape and need less work. Norman said he ran a USTA event there last summer, attracting about 250 entries.
Kupper said the tournaments sanctioned by USTA usually require 18 to 24 available courts.
"That's why we're trying to get all three of these refreshed," he said. "Once we do them, we'll be in that 24 magic number."
Kupper said he didn't know the economic impact of bringing in a tournament. He also said the city makes money when outside tournaments rent the courts.
"It really doesn't mean a whole lot of income to the city," he said, "but it makes our tennis players recognized on a more national and regional" level.
"It's more of a benefit to the tennis community than it would be to our coffers," he said. "It's a quality-of-life thing for us."
He said right now many local players are leaving the area to play in sanctioned tournaments elsewhere because the number in Wichita has dropped.
Norman was thankful the courts are getting the city's attention.
"It needs to be done," he said. "Otherwise we're going to start losing tournaments. We can't use Edgemoor already, and eventually Riverside will be in the same boat."
Kupper said he wouldn't have had to request the waiver for the 2012 money if he had waited until after the first of the year to start the project. But he said he wanted to begin sooner, so the work could be done by early summer.
"We want to be able to get as many of these latter-year tournaments as possible," Kupper said.