Crotona Park is becoming the Wimbledon of the Boogie Down, thanks to a $22 million tennis project underway at the leafy site.
The park is already the heart of tennis in the borough. For two decades, it has hosted the EmblemHealth Bronx Open professional tennis tournament - and the 2012 edition bounces off there Sunday.
But when the 12,600-square-foot Cary Leeds Center for Tennis and Learning is complete, along with 10 bubble-covered courts and two outdoor stadium courts, the Bronx park will rank among the top tennis meccas anywhere, gushed Skip Hartman, chairman emeritus of New York Junior Tennis and Learning, the organization formerly known as the New York Junior Tennis League.
Plans for the public-private project were recently finalized.
NYJTL will manage free youth programs at the Cary Leeds Center, hoping to discover the next Roger Federer or Venus Williams.
Hartman said the clubhouse and new courts will allow it to serve 2,000 Bronx youth and host up to 20 events each year in addition to the marquee Bronx Open.
NYJTL plans to break ground on the clubhouse this fall and complete the work in 2014.
“There will be no better site in the metropolitan region for a college tournament or United States Tennis Association tournament,” he said. “These events are going to bring tourists to the Bronx.
“The Yankees are great but the people who go to Yankee Stadium don’t spend time in the Bronx. The people who come here will.”
The project includes $13 million in public funds to renovate 20 existing courts, install two five-court bubbles for winter use and build two stadium courts with bleachers for 400 spectators.
It also includes $9 million in NYJTL cash for the Cary Leeds Center, a two-story clubhouse with locker rooms, classrooms, community space, a tennis equipment shop and a handicapped accessible viewing platform.
Pro tennis player Cary Leeds was a Wimbledon semifinalist and later a coach who died in 2003.
Work began in 2010 and the city has already renovated 10 existing courts. But the rest of the project was put on hold until this June, when the City Council allocated additional funds.
In return for the public support, NYJTL will pay rent and provide at least 6,500 hours of free tennis programs each year.
The nonprofit organization is excited to make Crotona Park its citywide headquarters because 10 public schools border the park and 10 more are located fewer than 10 blocks away, said Ron Nano, NYJTL tennis director.
NYJTL currently serves 200 Bronx youth at Crotona Park via summer camp. But when the Cary Leeds Center is complete, it will launch an afterschool program with homework help and test prep to help youth apply to selective high schools and colleges.
The clubhouse will be a “beehive of activity,” Hartman said.
“Serving more Bronx kids is our goal,” said summer camp coach Vernon Spady, 26, a Bronx native who attended NYJTL programs when he was growing up. “This is where it counts.”
The architect of the clubhouse received an award last month from Mayor Bloomberg and the Public Design Commission for its plan, which features glass windows above the stadium courts.
During the winter, NYJTL will use some of the bubble-covered courts for programs and rent the rest for $30-$60 an hour. In contrast, courts at the swanky new tennis center on Randalls Island rent for $72 to $105 an hour.
During the summer, at least 15 Crotona Park courts will remain open to the public at all times.