Miami Open Tennis Tournament Threatens to Leave Town After Court Loss

Tennis Center at Crandon Park
Tennis Center at Crandon Park
Photo by LeaveSleaves via WikiCommons

"You know the old song, you don't know what you have until it's gone? We're going to find out, apparently," Eugene Stearns, a lawyer for the Miami Open tennis tournament told the Associated Press. After losing a court battle, he's now threatening that his clients will move the popular tournament elsewhere. 

The irony is that the court ruled that the Miami Open couldn't pave paradise and put up new tennis facilities. (Come on, dude, know your Joni Mitchell lyrics better.)

The Miami Open has called the Tennis Center at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne home since 1987, and it's one of the most popular and prestigious non-Grand Slam tennis tournaments in the world. As a mandatory stop on the ATP tour, it draws blue-chip talent every year. 

Organizers, however, say that the facilities are getting old. Its slow hard court is often criticized by players. They've offered to pay $50 million for improvements and expansion of the facilities. 

There's a problem. Mainly, the facilities sit in a public park, and not just any public park. Crandon Park was gifted to Miami-Dade County by the Matheson family back in the '40s. However, the gift came with the restriction that the 975 acres of Crandon Park must be used for public park purposes. Descendants of the Matheson family have long fought more development in the park to benefit the tennis tourney. Bruce Matheson, who now sits on a committee that oversees any changes to the park's master plan, has become the public face of the dispute. 

The Third District Court of Appeal upheld the finding of a lower court that the original restrictions on the park remain, and that the committee still has power to quash any proposed changes to the park. According to the Miami Herald, the decisions gives the Miami Open little room to appeal. 

So, of course, their next step is to threaten an exit. The tourney still has an eight-year agreement with Miami-Dade, but Stearns says that the tourney may try and sue to get an early exit. Places like Orlando, Dubai, and China have been mentioned as possible destinations for the tournament. South America, too, has also been rumored. 

“I can’t predict whether the tournament is going to want to stick it out for the next eight years,” Stearns told the Herald. “They’ll certainly have to consider their options. Under the circumstances, this has become a hostile environment to conduct business.”

Tourney officials themselves aren't talking, but clearly they don't mind if their lawyer does. 

The open draws more than 300,000 visitors a year, making it one of the most popular tournaments outside of the Grand Slams. Which, of course, begs the question: if the tournament remains so popular, how exactly is the environment hostile to business?


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