Crandon

The future of the Crandon Park Tennis Center is up in the air after the Miami Open departs for Hard Rock Stadium.

Alive with the sound of cheering fans, resplendent with colorful images of people from all over the world, soon Crandon Park’s Stadium Court could face the death penalty if it is not used it for other events after the Miami Open is gone.

For months rumors have circled around the fate of the iconic tennis venue as residents, tennis experts and political officials alike speculated about what might happen to the 13,000-seat stadium that overlooks Biscayne Bay and is known worldwide as a must-see sight on the professional tennis tour. The most dramatic possibility is the destruction of the court, and sources say there are plans in place if the decision is made to have Stadium Court demolished.

Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay said at this point she doesn’t know what will come of the site.

She said regardless of the various possibilities, whatever happens will more than likely need to be approved by the Crandon Park Master Plan Amendment Board and others, potentially starting another lengthy process of trying to figure out, once again, what to do.

“I don’t know that there's a plan yet,” she said. “At one point there was a discussion about demolition. Recently I’ve heard they want to have other tournaments there, like college or high school,” she said.

The Mayor added she’d like to see the needs of the community made a priority in regards to what to do with the stadium and the site. “I think there are so many community needs in terms of good quality parks. We have been good about monetizing parks, adding building upon building, and we do need green space.”

Is there a way of achieving both goals of having a robust program and providing for the community?  “I don’t think they are mutually exclusive,” Pena Lindsay said. “I really would like to see a world-class recreational facility of some kind.”

Reducing the venue to rubble is an idea that garners emotional reactions from people in the Village who, even if they aren’t tennis fans, see value in having the structure remain intact. Simon Mueller took a break from a leisurely bike ride before heading into Winn-Dixie to give his thoughts on the Crandon Park stadium.

“I don’t know, I think tennis should stay there, but I guess it’s too late for that,” he said. “So we should probably leave it as a tennis court and try to promote people to go up there, because you can go and use it, but I don’t think people really know it.”

One of the more popular players to play at Crandon Park’s Stadium Court spoke exclusively with The Islander News, giving a player’s perspective on the issue.

Former tennis great Malavi Washington, who was a finalist in Wimbledon in 1996 and runner-up on Key Biscayne in 1993, was candid about his feelings regarding the relocation of the Miami Open and the potential fate of Stadium Court. “I was a little disappointed,” the former 11th best player in the world said about learning of the pending move, “because I really enjoyed the event being on Key Biscayne. When I’d go down there I looked at Key Biscayne as paradise, and you’re playing tennis in paradise.

“I made it to the finals there in ‘93, so I had a lot of good memories.”

When responding directly to a potential demolition of Stadium Court, Washington’s reaction was even more emotional and detailed. “Wow,” he said, upon hearing it might be leveled. “I’m one to believe in the history of events, and I enjoy that whether it’s tennis or golf tournaments or a team sport in a city, I hate to see it when they move. I think about the San Diego Chargers, and I think it’s a crime that they moved, the city and the community had so much invested in it and I think it’s a crime to see what’s happening to the Miami Open, because so much has been invested. I’d like to see it thrive and survive on Key Biscayne.”

Admitting that he didn’t know all the details of the Crandon Park improvements being blocked, the former sports star, who is now a real estate executive, gave an example of how you can improve a venue while maintaining history.

“I look at Yankee Stadium, you can make an argument for the history,” Washington. “I’ve been in there and it was like a dungeon and left a lot to be desired, but I like that they built the new stadium right next door they didn’t take it somewhere else.”

There has also been speculation that the venue could be used for smaller events and tournaments like the Orange Bowl, the NCAA Tennis Tournament and perhaps even an international event like the Davis Cup. Pablo Arraya, former ATP top 30 player, three-time captain of the Peruvian Davis Cup team and longtime Key Biscayne tennis coach gave his thoughts on the possibilities.

“I would like to see the stadium stay in order to have other events that would help our community, like smaller tennis tournaments or even concerts,” Arraya said.

In fact, Stadium Court has always been available for rent to the public. For years, corporations and private groups alike have used the facility for events and parties, taking advantage of the scenic setting and impressive reputation. Miami-Dade County has also benefited from commercial shoots. Just last month Venus Williams was seen on center court filming a commercial for one of her sponsors, as have the Bryant Brothers, Andy Murray and others in need of an idyllic tennis backdrop to enhance their presentation.

Despite the fact that the tournament is moving to Miami Gardens and will proposedly continue to help generate a half-billion dollars in annual revenue to South Florida, the lack of the venue in Crandon Park would no doubt mean a lack of revenue for the immediate area.

With the economic impact in mind, Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center Executive Director Tatyana Chiocchetti looked at the situation from both an emotional and practical point of view.  She said a demolition would destroy more than the physical structure.

“It would demolish a lot of memories and I feel the whole community would lose in that regard,” she said. “But depending on what they actually do with the structure, my reaction would vary. Maybe they can develop it into something the community could make better use of in a year-round capacity instead of just the tournament.”

Plenty of scenarios are in play, but no matter what happens, changes are coming.

Washington put the conundrum into perspective as he noted, “I think one of the great things about sports is you can create something over decades that creates a tremendous history, and that is what has been going on in Key Biscayne.”

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