Tennis seeking $200m
January 27, 2007
AUSTRALIAN Open organisers will ask the State Government for up to $200 million to restore Melbourne Park's reputation as the world's best tennis venue.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said yesterday a large-scale renovation was needed urgently.
"For us to continue to set the standard, to be a world-class tennis facility, we have to improve," he said. "Others get better. We have to keep up."
The money would fund changes to player and spectator facilities that Open organisers say are vital to keep pace with improvements made at other grand slam venues.
The plan could also involve expanding the centre to take in land around Vodafone Arena, or to move some tennis facilities to the soccer-rugby league/rugby stadium being planned by the Government at nearby Edwin Flack Field.
Tiley, who also works for Tennis Australia, and his team have been working for months on ideas to expand and improve Melbourne Park.
After the tournament finishes tomorrow, a working party will prepare a master plan of costed proposals to be presented to the Government later this year.
A Government spokeswoman said Melbourne's sporting precinct had already had significant investment, including a redeveloped MCG.
"Any proposal from the Australian Open would be looked at in the context of maintaining these world-class facilities and also within budget considerations," she said.
Tiley said the redevelopment could cost as much as $200 million. "An exact figure hasn't been laid down yet but we are talking about a considerable amount."
He said any redevelopment would be done in partnership with Tennis Australia, the Melbourne and Olympic Park Trust and the State Government. "We all have a vested interest. It's the largest sporting event in Australia, it brings significant funds to the economy of Victoria and it is one of the world's greatest tournaments."
The redevelopment would be the largest addition to the centre since the 10,500-seat Vodafone Arena was completed in 2000.
Organisers believe larger facilities are required to keep tennis stars happy. "Now we are very limited by what we can offer the players," Tiley said. "We need to have a new gym, a new restaurant, new locker rooms and player lounge."
The early preference is to construct a separate players' building, rather than refurbish existing facilities under the Rod Laver Arena.
Organisers also want to add more courts so all players can have daily practice sessions there. At present, some players practise at Albert Park.
Bulging attendances have also created the need for larger spectator areas. Crowds have exceeded 500,000 for the past three years.
The plan involves creating new outdoor leisure zones similar to the popular Garden Square. This would include landscaping, public seating and outdoor screens.
The video replay screen introduced on centre court this year could be extended to other courts, as could the Hawkeye line-judging computer system.
Tiley said that while Melbourne Park was already cramped, there was room for the changes. "We think we can expand beyond Vodafone Arena or maybe where the new soccer stadium is, across the street."
The Government announced last year that a 20,000-seat stadium would be built on land opposite the tennis centre, to be used for soccer, rugby and rugby league. But the project has been beset by reports of a budget blow-out and concerns that it is too small to accommodate Melbourne Victory soccer fans.