By Natalie Simms
This July will mark two years since the opening of the SPLOST-funded, $11 million Rome Tennis Center at Berry College. While the center has “exceeded expectations” in drawing a number of large tournaments including the ACC Championships, there have been some challenges.
“The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College has definitely exceeded expectations as a first-class tennis facility. As with any new start up, there have been bumps and growing pains, but we have an exceptional facility and an exceptional leader with Tom Daglis and his staff that continue to step up and meet the challenge,” says Sammy Rich, Rome City Manager.
On the accounting sheet, the Tennis Center doesn’t quite break-even but officials are quick to point out the economic impact is the ultimate goal. Click here for Statement of Operations.
“During the years that led up to building the center, there was always a keen focus on creating a project that would have a positive impact on tennis and economic impact for our community,” he says.
“The facility was never conceived as a profit center or large employment center. The expectation was the benefits would be created by visitors to our community. One does not have to venture far during a large tournament to personally witness the impact. A simple stroll along Broad Street looking into sidewalk cafes and shops that are filled with tennis players and guests filling our hotels serves as a direct reminder of the economic impact being created.”
Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Accounting statements combine expenses and revenues for the main complex off the Armuchee Connector and the Downtown Tennis Center off West Third Street (satellite location of RTC) together for each fiscal year that runs January-December.
For 2017, the RTC had total revenues of $853,289, which was approximately $96,000 more than budgeted projected revenues of $756,950. Total expenses were $1,112,565 for 2017, which netted a shortfall of $256,276. However, $241,409 of those expenses is categorized as depreciation and does not actually represent operating expenses. So, taking that into consideration, the net shortfall was $17,867 for 2017.
“Essentially, the RTC has operated near break-even when you take everything into account. We’ve learned some lessons and will continue to adjust and try to remain proactive as we continue to grow the center,” says Rich.
According to financial statements, first quarter 2018 (January-March), revenues are up over the same time period last year. So far for 2018, revenues are $133,882, slightly ahead of last year’s first quarter revenues of $130,201. However, expenses total $295,473 so far this year ($61,405 of which is depreciation), which is substantially higher than last year’s total of $164,900 for same time period.
Rich says one area that is consistently losing money is the Downtown Tennis Center. Daglis, RTC Executive Director, is working to address the issue.
“The Downtown Tennis Center continues to be a challenge. We basically duplicate our staffing expenses and there are certain operational expenses that remain as constant line items whether 10 consumers use the facility or 1,000 consumers use it,” says Daglis. “We attempted to offer programming, player development, and specific events and activities downtown, but did not receive enough interest.
“We are always looking at ways to streamline our operation. One big change we have instituted this year is incorporating all lawncare and landscaping work in-house versus subcontracting the work. Our facility is situated on over 30 acres and it is a job to keep up to the standards we want. We have purchased lawn equipment to take over this expense and will utilize our partner, Berry College, and their student work experience program to assist us with this operation.”
The other way to increase revenues is to draw more players and tournaments to Rome. Ann Hortman, director of Rome Sports Commission with Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau, is working to do just that. Since the RTC opened in 2016, the amount of tennis tournaments in Rome has already increased from 10 per year to more than 30 per year.
“We could not be more pleased with the success we have seen over the first two years at the Rome Tennis Center. Our estimates are very conservative but we have welcomed more than 17,000 people and saw an economic impact of $6,130,063, for 30+ tournaments. Those numbers are a reflection of tournaments alone, and do not include local league play, community tennis, collegiate, middle school and high school matches,” says Hortman.
Just this past weekend, the RTC hosted the USTA Georgia Adult League Championships and the Georgia High School State Tennis Championships, drawing more than 1,000 athletes and visitors. Other big tournaments include the ACC Tennis Championships in 2017, which will be returning in 2020 and 2021; ITF Georgia Open Wheelchair Tennis Tournament; USTA Southern Junior Team Tennis Championships and USTA Girls’ 14 Nationals.
“The USTA Southern JTT Championships had never been hosted in Georgia until now. This event brings over 1,000 people to Rome, and the tennis center is the perfect location. After all, Rome is in the geographical center of the Southern section,” says Hortman.
The one thing the Tennis Center needs to stay competitive in attracting tournaments is indoor courts. Hortman says Rome has lost several bids due to lack of covered courts, namely the NCAA Championships.
Says Rich: “One of the major lessons we have learned is that we must build indoor tennis courts if we are to remain a viable tournament facility. To that end, the City Commission agrees and has committed to develop six indoor tennis courts.
“I am currently working to develop the project, which means we will be soliciting for an architect to kick off the project in the coming weeks ahead. As the covered courts were not chosen as part of the 2017 SPLOST referendum, our only option is to issue a bond to pay for the construction. I am currently working with the same proposed budget we used for the SPLOST presentation, which is roughly $4 million.”
Although plans are still being developed, Rich anticipates some of the existing 60 courts at the Tennis Center will be used to make the indoor courts. The goal is to have the covered courts ready by Spring 2020 when the ACC Tournament returns.
“With the city commissioners’ support for adding indoor tennis courts, we are now able to include relevant bids on some of the larger tournaments that require indoor courts for backup should there be inclement weather. The indoor courts will also help us with more consistent programming that translates into greater revenues since we would not have to cancel programming. In addition, indoor courts will give us the option to design new events specific to indoor tennis,” says Daglis.