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An Interview with: Daniel Zausner, National Tennis Center COO

Stadium Transformation
By Nicholas J. Walz
Monday, July 28, 2014

Over the next five years, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, will undergo a historic transformation, designed to make the world’s premier tennis facility the premier sports and entertainment venue in the world. This transformation will include a long-anticipated roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium, two new state-of-the-art stadiums and a series of enhancements to enrich the overall experience for fans and players alike.
When complete, every aspect of the US Open will be better than before – truly cementing the US Open’s status as the grandest Slam in tennis. (To see a full timeline of the transformation, please scroll to the bottom of this story.) sat down with Daniel Zausner, Chief Operating Officer of the National Tennis Center, to get an updated look at the transformation, the progress made over the last six months and what’s in store for the 2014 US Open and beyond.
*** The US Open annually draws more than 700,000 fans and boasts some of the finest facilities in the world. So why make these changes?
Daniel Zausner: We believe the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is one of the best stages for tennis in the world, but we also believe it can be even better. The fact is, we need a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand, for all their history, are in need of replacement. Improving and upgrading them also gives us the opportunity to rethink the grounds of the National Tennis Center, shifting the Grandstand to the southwest corner and creating wider walkways throughout the grounds to improve the fan experience without sacrificing the essence of what makes the US Open the greatest sports and entertainment spectacular in the world.
That means more for fans, more for players and more opportunities for sponsor activation. It’s an ambitious project, no question. But by 2018, when we have completed our work, we will be the envy of the sports world. Can you tell us a little more about the current construction? What can ticketholders expect for this summer’s event?
DZ: The primary focus for 2014 is on the northwest section of the grounds. We’re currently building a 30-foot deep, two-story viewing gallery that will allow 1,000-plus fans to watch the five practice courts as well as Courts 4, 5 and 6, which are being reconstructed to make them more player- and fan-friendly. The three tournament courts will have seating on all sides, doubling the capacity to just shy of 3,000 and creating a viewing experience that is both more dynamic and more intimate. Also, the middle court, No. 5, will be a broadcast court with all the amenities of our show courts, including instant replay, a broadcast booth and video screens. The roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium has created the biggest buzz so far. Where does that stand, and, to give people an idea of scope, what’s the manpower required for these projects?
DZ: The retractable roof will be built in stages over the next three years. In 2014, fans will see some of the holes for the foundation of the roof’s support structure, with more to come in 2015. We expect completion for the 2016 US Open.
In terms of manpower, there will be, on average, 200 to 300 people working here on an annual basis over the next five years – both construction and design team. Will fans have a chance to see the transformation laid out at this year’s Open?
DZ: The goal is to take a space on the exterior of Ashe, likely in the neighborhood of 1,000 square feet, and create an experience to showcase what the National Tennis Center will look like through the various phases of construction. You’re probably looking at this exhibit for the next two years. After that point, fans will be able to see the roof with their own eyes when they attend the 2016 Open. It’s easy to see the benefits for spectators – fewer rain delays, added courts and new amenities. What should the players expect?
DZ: The site, for the most part, is young. Yet with Louis Armstrong Stadium and the current Grandstand, you’re talking about stadiums that were built in the late 70s within the confines of structures that were built for the 1964 World’s Fair. The court surfaces have always been as good as it gets, but for players, they’re dealing with waiting rooms, first-aid, medical areas and infrastructure within those stadiums that are terribly dated.
The fan experience, like you said, has been phenomenal – people love Louie and Grandstand matches with a more intimate feel. These new stadiums will be state of the art. The fan experience will be the same, if not better. With the players, it will be a tremendous improvement as they try to prepare to compete at the highest level – the Ashe experience replicated throughout the grounds. A better venue means a more attractive and lucrative event. What has been the feedback locally in Queens and from the City of New York as a whole?
DZ: Feedback has been incredibly helpful and supportive. We’re surrounded by six community boards, many of which were very much in favor of the transformation. That outreach has been ongoing, and we’re making sure that they understand what we do here all year long, not just during the US Open. The Open, and our year-round tennis activities, very much support the area.
The mayor’s office and all the different commissioners and their organizations, have been wildly supportive of the project since day one. The US Open delivers $800 million in positive economic impact to New York City on an annual basis and they’d love to see that number grow, much like we would. If we’re providing a way to allow more people to attend our event, we’re generating more revenue to further our own mission [to promote and develop the sport of tennis]. They recognize that we gobble up every hotel room in the area, eat in all the local restaurants, too and provide almost 7,000 seasonal jobs. And as we’ve pointed out, the project is generating hundreds of construction jobs, which generates millions of dollars for payroll in the local community. Any additional words for the tennis fan planning their trip to the 2014 US Open?
DZ: Book early, because we’re anticipating phenomenal weather and phenomenal matches. I’m very excited this year to get feedback on phase one of the work – hopefully all good marks.
For 2014 US Open: Three new courts – Nos. 4, 5 and 6 – plus five new practice courts built in the northwest area of the grounds, along with a 30-foot, two-story viewing gallery for fans.
For 2015 US Open: Parts of the south campus expanded to alleviate traffic on the grounds. These widened walkways will eventually connect Court 17 to the new Grandstand.
For 2016 US Open: Roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium complete and operational; New Grandstand stadium debuts; 10 new field courts; further remodeling of the south campus.
For 2018 US Open: New Louis Armstrong stadium debuts with retractable roof.