New Haven Open to stay in the Elm City

After months of negotiation, Connecticut’s Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) voted unanimously on Thursday night to keep the New Haven Open at Yale’s Connecticut Tennis Center in the Elm City, spelling good news for regional tennis fans and local businesses alike.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA), which helps oversee the New Haven Open Women’s Professional Tennis Tournament, reached an agreement to sell the tournament and move it to Winston-Salem, N.C., where the Association of Tennis Professionals holds a men’s event during the same week in August. But the Association rejected the deal, offering Connecticut a chance to purchase the rights to keep the event in New Haven instead.

For the past several months, top state officials, including Governor Dannel Malloy’s Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian and Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, have lobbied the CRDA, an organization that heads projects to attract major sporting events to the state, to approve keeping the tournament in New Haven. The CRDA voted to pay $618,000 for the rights to the event, arguing that the investment would reap greater economic returns for the city and the state.

“Economic development for our urban environments, and the state as a whole, is a fundamental component of the state’s agenda, and we view the New Haven Open as another chapter in bolstering this effort,” Malloy said in a statement last week. “We know that Connecticut is a great state for women’s sports, and this is another fantastic way to ensure that continues to be the case in 2014 and beyond.”

CRDA Director of Marketing and Public Relations Terryl Mitchell Smith said the CRDA Board decided to approve the purchase because the Open is a great economic driver, not only for the New Haven area, but for the state as a whole. In fact, a 2008 study revealed that the tournament has delivered $26 million in revenue for the state, spurring 300 jobs and $1.1 million in tax revenue.

Employees at four local businesses, including Claire’s Corner Copia, all said their establishments all see a notable increase in foot traffic during the Open.

“It’s really great for our business,” Claire’s restaurant manager Erin Guild said. “We get a lot of the players and coaches from the tournament, and a lot of visitors that are in town solely for the event.”

Anne Worcester, the tournament’s director, could not be reached for comment. In an interview with the Waterbury Republican-American last week, she said she was happy that the state has recognized the tournament’s economic value and role in making the state a more interesting place to live, work and visit.

Barnes added in a press release that the tournament is a part of the state’s “cultural fabric,” along with its other major sporting events, restaurants and arts venues.

“If Connecticut is to remain attractive for economic development, it’s important to keep and nurture these amenities,” he said.

For the past eight years, the event has experienced a steady drop in attendance and revenue. In 2013, fewer than 46 thousand visitors attended the New Haven Open, the tournament’s second-lowest showing in its 16-year history. Still, Worcester told the Waterbury Republican-American last week that she was encouraged that the tournament actually sold more tickets this past August than in 2012.

The tournament’s sponsors also showed more active involvement in 2013 than in the years before, she added. First Niagara, Aetna, American Express, Yale University and the Yale-New Haven Hospital have all signed agreements to renew their sponsorships in light of the state’s continued support of the event. With State support, especially in improving facilities, Worcester said she is confident the event will continue to improve and grow.

Next year’s tournament is slated to run from Aug. 15-23, 2014.

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