Rain-plagued US Open getting a roof

Updated: 2013-08-17 09:15


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The US Tennis Association rolled out ambitious plans on Thursday for a weather-beating retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, the main court of the 22,500-seat US Open Grand Slam.

It also laid out its intention to erect two new stadiums as part of a three-phase building project to be completed in time for the 2018 edition of the premier US tennis event.

Construction at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows is to begin soon after this year's tournament ends in September, with the retractable roof scheduled for completion in August 2017.

News of the retractable roof will thrill tennis fans and players alike after rain forced the postponement of the US Open men's final every year for the past five years.

"We have been working toward a viable design for a roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium for more than a decade," said USTA chairman and president Dave Haggerty.

"Through a long and arduous process, we feel that we now have a design that meets the criteria of being architecturally sound, aesthetically pleasing, reasonably affordable and buildable."

This year's US Open runs from Aug 26 through to Sept 9.

When the entire projected overhaul is completed, the USTA says the venue will be able to welcome an additional 10,000 fans per day during the Open.

The retractable roof - a $100 million guarantee that foul weather will never stop play - will consist of a flexible, translucent fabric stretched over a steel frame, supported by eight steel columns surrounding the stadium.

The overall transformation in Flushing Meadows carries an estimated price tag of $550 million, with the association footing the entire bill through a combination of bonds and revenue flow.

It should even be able to command a higher price for television rights, as it would be able to ensure broadcasters a firm match schedule, come rain or shine.

Tasked with designing the retractable roof is Rossetti, the same Michigan-based architecture firm specializing in big sports venues that made the blueprints for the Arthur Ashe stadium.

Undertaking the actual construction is Hunt Construction Group, based in Indiana, whose projects in greater New York include the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn and Citifield, the Flushing Meadows home of baseball's New York Mets.

Phase two of the National Tennis Center transformation calls for an 8,000-seat grandstand stadium and the relocation of 10 field courts to create a bigger esplanade for pedestrians.

The third and final phase is the building of a new 15,000-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium - the late jazz legend lived nearby - the final design for which should be completed in 12 to 18 months. There will also be upgrades to the US Open's busiest spectator portal, the East entrance.

The project is still subject to New York state and local approval and, as the New York Daily News put it, when it comes to big-time construction projects, "not everything goes well in New York".

But the defending US Open champions reacted positively to the news.

"Obviously it's going to be great," said Serena Williams, although the reigning women's champion noted it would "take a really long time" for the roof to become a reality.

Men's champion Andy Murray, who was miffed at a mid-match roof closing during his Wimbledon semifinal last month, had more mixed feelings.

"I don't particularly like going from indoors to outdoors to indoors," Murray said. "But it's good for TV. It's good for fans that are watching. For the players that are scheduled on that court, it's great."