Construction resumed at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center four days after the completion of the 2015 US Open. In the intervening three months, up to 400 workers have been on site every day to complete the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, build the new Grandstand Stadium and transform the South Plaza and field courts.
National Tennis Center Chief Operating Officer Danny Zausner spoke with USOpen.org about the progress and what fans can look forward to in 2016.
USOpen.org: How has the construction project progressed since the 2015 US Open ended?
Danny Zausner: We’re now installing the retractable sections of the roof. There’s one big section that will sit on the west side and one that sits on the east side. We’re about 80 percent done on the section on the west side and then the crane will move from parking lot A to the east side of the campus to install the east side.
At the same time, there’s a company working on the electrics that will get the roof to operate, a company that is working on the sprinkler that has to go in the seating bowl, a company that’s installing the duct work for the air conditioning that goes in the roof and another company installing the actual air conditioning units. … We’re very excited that within the next three or four weeks after the holiday, Birdair, the company who manufactures the roofing material, will show up with their crew of 15 to 20 folks to install the material on the roof.
USOpen.org: What are the next stages after that?
Zausner: The contractors will move the crane from the west side to the east side by the end of the first week of January. We have 80 percent of the steel for the east side already fabricated and that has started to arrive on trucks from Quebec. We’ll have the power in position to start to put the retractable portion of the roof on the west side through its motions in early March. The goal is by the middle of June to have the whole roof going through the process.
USOpen.org: How’s progress on the new Grandstand?
Zausner: The second week of December was a big week for us because we put the last piece of steel in place for the entire seating bowl structure. The shell is in place and you can get a real feel for how cool the space is and what it will ultimately look like. Every square inch of concrete that needs to be poured on the ground level of the stadium is installed. For the actual seating tiers manufactured in Korea over the last six months, 25-30 percent of them have been installed already and we had another shipment in this week. Around New Year's, we’ll have 50 percent of the bowl installed.
Birdair, which manufactures the roofing material for Ashe, is using a similar material for the sides of Grandstand that will create a canopy for about two-thirds of the seating area that will create a lot of shade. Grandstand is an asymmetrical structure, so a lot of seats are built in the southwest corner so the bulk of the people sitting in the Grandstand will be in the shade all the time. They’ll be mobilizing to start installing this in the next 30 days.
USOpen.org: What is the plan for the old Grandstand?
Zausner: For 2016, it’s a very unique year because we’ll have two Grandstands. One will be the new Grandstand that will specifically be a third show court. The old Grandstand played its last official match during last year's tournament and this year will just be a player practice court, but we won’t broadcast from there or play tournament matches there.
Much like Grandstand saw its swansong in 2015, Armstrong will see its swansong in 2016. This will be the last year that we’ll play matches in the original Louis Armstrong Stadium that we’ve played in since 1978. Shortly after the 2016 Open, we’ll begin the demolition of the combined structure that we know as Armstrong and Grandstand and then we’ll rebuild the new Armstrong in the exact same location of the old Armstrong – except that it’ll encompass about 50 percent of the square footage of the old Grandstand. It’ll be about 14,000 seats with a retractable roof stadium, but it will not open until 2018, so for the purpose of the 2017 US Open, we’ll erect a temporary stadium somewhere on the eastern end of our site that will be in the 8,000- to 10,000-seat area.
USOpen.org: Most of the other field courts are being rebuilt as part of the renovation. What’s the update with construction on those?
Zausner: All of our south campus courts, our field courts on the east end from Court 17 to the west end where the new Grandstand will be, within weeks after the 2015 US Open was completed, were completely demolished. They were demolished because the area was way too compact and there was no room between courts. We worked with the city to secure some land, about a half-acre of land, just beyond our south fence. We took the seven courts along our southern boundary (Courts 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15 and 16) and we’re pushing them back 30 feet. That takes the walkway we had that was 8- to 10-feet wide and allows us to make it 40-feet wide.
USOpen.org: What else is being done to improve the overall fan experience?
Zausner: The buildings at Courts 7 and 11 are being rebuilt much more modern and much larger, with twice as many bathroom facilities for men and women and with four shops instead of two.
Court 7 and Building 7 is the most significant project within the south campus structure and we just put the court lights up last week. The steel is supposed to show up for Building 7 next week, and by March 1 we should see all the structures in place. On the west side of the seats [there] will be a new concession stands called Bar 7, which will be an oyster bar with seating in the shade and a tree canopy space. In addition to that, the entire expanse between the new Grandstand on the west to Court 17 on the east, which is about 350-feet long, will have this whole esplanade of new sponsor activations spaces, merchandise kiosks and food and beverage offerings.
Every field court will have twice as many seats and there will also be more seats on the ends of the courts. In the past, we’d have two or three rows of bleachers on the east and west side, now we’ll have elevated bleacher seating above the sponsor pavilions on the south end of the court. In addition to that, for the seven courts along the south end of the grounds, the bank of three courts (Courts 8, 9 and 10) and the bank of four courts (Courts 13, 14, 15 and 16), the bleacher seating will be connected so you can move from court to court.
In between Courts 12 and 17, a new food village will face the existing food village to create an ‘L’ shape. There will be one big [food area] in Court 11, one big one in Court 7 and eight more by the new Grandstand. It won’t be the size of the existing food village which seats around 1,500 to 1,600, but it will seat about 600 people. There will be eight new concepts in that area, which is half the size of the current food village, which has 16.
USOpen.org: What do you think fans will be most surprised about when they arrive for the 2016 US Open?
Zausner: I think for any fan that has been here before, their perspective would be that with the exception of Arthur Ashe Stadium still anchoring the site, you think that anything is staying the same.
Whether you were here once or every year since 1997, you’ll feel like you’re coming to a new site. There will be more open spaces, the lines will be shorter and there’s a greater opportunity to enhance every element of what you like about the event. The average fan spends eight hours here and they’re not watching tennis all eight hours of it. The fact that they have that many more choices through the 42-plus acres to do other things apart from watch tennis on the court, it can only enhance the eperience.
US Open Transformation At a glance
Here's an overview of what fans can expect over the next three years: