ST. PETERSBURG — Janet Howe has fond memories of playing tennis in the St. Petersburg Tennis Center at Bartlett Park. A former professional player, she graced the same courts that have seen matches between legends like Billie Jean King and Chris Evert.
In mid April, the center will be torn down, but not for long. The city is spending roughly $900,000 to build a new facility at 18th Avenue S. "I'm thrilled they're rebuilding it," Howe said.
On Thursday, the City Council will have a final vote on a bid for the construction. Eight years ago, city officials tried to ramp up participation in the center, which offers tennis instruction and academic help to 285 children in St. Petersburg. A group of concerned individuals formed a nonprofit foundation to promote the center and manage its programs.
The Tennis Foundation of St. Petersburg bolstered the city's efforts by raising an additional $327,000 to assist with the renovations. The task was relatively easy, according to the group's president.
"We found some very generous people who grew up at the Tennis Center. It holds a special place in their hearts," said Mike Carrollwood, president of the foundation. "This is sort of the last stage of turning around what is really a considerable asset to the community," said council member Karl Nurse, who represents the district where the facility is located.
With growing enthusiasm for the center in recent years, attention was turned to the dilapidating building. The restrooms in the 2,200-square-foot facility were not efficient, and the walls were termite-ridden, according to Raul Quintana, the city architect.
The new building will expand to more than 4,500 square feet. The center has more than 20 tennis courts. Quintana said the foundation's efforts really helped to build the best center possible. "The city's contribution wasn't going to be alone, in order to really do this right. The city really had no additional funds with budgets and revenues for projects," he said.
Programs at the center include the Arthur Ashe Academic Center, which promotes education and First Serve, a national training program. The facility will also have computers to give students access to the Internet and assist with homework.
"We're very happy to see that before the kids could get on the tennis courts themselves, they had to complete their homework assignments," said Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis. He said that the center has also helped to bring people in the city together. "The other really important part is the tennis center is an attractor. It brings individuals into Midtown who live outside the community."
That point was echoed by Carrollwood, who said that although the center is used primarily by lower-income families, it has also attracted a greater segment of more affluent families as well.
About 70 percent of participants receive free instruction, including children who receive free and reduced-priced lunches. Children start as early as age 4 and continue through high school.
Carrollwood said he hopes the new facility will also serve as a meeting place for community activities. Next month, the facility's staff of seven will move into two trailers in the parking lot to continue services until construction is completed in November.
The vote Thursday is planned to award the contract for construction to Bradanna Inc., a Naples company.
Austin Bogues can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8872.