But, if indeed they do, they hope it will be ready to use by 2016 … but more likely 2017.
“We want this to be known as an outdoor tournament,” Gordon Smith, the executive director and chief operation officer of the USTA, said at a news conference. “We’re only going to close it if it’s going to rain or is raining. There will be rules and procedures put in place. … When at all possible, this will be an outdoor tournament where conditions really do test the players.”
The Open, the USA’s marquee tennis event and only Slam, has had five consecutive Monday finishes due to rain delays. Even Wimbledon, a tournament that prides itself on tradition, added a retractable roof to Centre Court in recent years.
“We’ve got to make sure the jewel is polished and the best it can be,” USTA President Dave Haggerty said.
Officials estimated that the Ashe roof will cost upwards of $100 million. That roof is just one piece of a project that includes a new Louis Armstrong stadium (with a retractable roof, too), a relocated and rebuilt Grandstand, upgrades to smaller courts, seating surrounding practice courts and a wider concourse for fans on the property.
Also in the plans: New tournament and practice courts with additional seating; widened walkways and more space for spectators. The center’s capacity for each day session will increase from 40,000 to 50,000 people.
The total project is projected to cost $550 million, officials said. They hope all of the construction will be completed by the 2018 U.S. Open, and though they declined to mention specifics of how they will finance the project (a press release says bonds and USTA revenues), they did say they did not plan on burdening ticketholders with the cost. The new National Tennis Center can hold about 10,000 more patrons on a daily basis (Grandstand/Armstrong combined will have 6,500 extra seats), so that should bring in more revenue.
The U.S. Open also recently signed an 11-year deal with ESPN, which will broadcast the tournament beginning in 2015.
Smith said that the USTA had many hurdles to clear before the Ashe roof could become reality, including “abysmal” land conditions surrounding the stadium.
Four studies were commissioned to determine the feasibility of building a roof on the existing Ashe stadium. One of the limiting factors in the first three was cost; it didn’t seem possible to construct the roof for less than $200 million until now.
The retractable roof is being designed by Rossetti, and the Hunt Construction Group will build the structure itself. When the roof is not closed, there will be a 250 feet by 250 feet opening. Each of the four panels of the roof will weigh 400 tons apiece, and the roof will go from open to closed in five to seven minutes.
The roof will be constructed with flexible, translucent PTFE fabric stretched over a steel frame (keeping it as lightweight as possible) and will be supported by eight steel columns that surround Arthur Ashe stadium.