Nuance: There’s Always A Bigger Picture

Asset or albatross? Who cares, it's there. Let's make the most of it.

Asset or albatross? Who cares, it’s there. Let’s make the most of it.

It’s a great week to talk tennis.

We just witnessed another fabulous U.S. Open with a very strong Delray Beach subtext.

The men’s finals pitted Marin Cilic against Kei Nishikori, two former Delray Open Champions. Both Cilic—the defending champion—and Nishikori, the 2008 winner are expected back at Delray’s ATP tournament this winter.

The Bryan brothers, the U.S. Open Doubles champions, are also expected back. Playing the Delray stop on the tour has become a tradition for the most successful doubles team of all time.

Women’s champion Serena Williams also has Delray connections which include playing two Fed Cup ties at the Delray stadium.

Whether you’re a fan or not, tennis looms large in the Delray story; in 2010, City Commissioners renamed the city “Tennis Beach” for a week in honor of the United States Tennis Association recognizing Delray as one of America’s top tennis towns.

In 1991, former Mayor Tom Lynch and the city commission made a decision to rebuild the tennis center and add a tennis stadium downtown, a decision Mr. Lynch has always cited as one of the key building blocks to rehabbing downtown and the city’s brand.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to have breakfast with Mayor Lynch. He still believes that the downtown stadium changed the dynamics in Delray by bringing people downtown and getting them to think differently about the city. That bold decision came at a time when Delray’s image was in need of repair and when the city longed for the day when parking and traffic might be an issue.

After leaving breakfast, I filmed a tribute video for Tom who is receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Chamber of Commerce next month. The young couple supervising the shoot cited the Delray Stadium and the chance to see world class tennis on the same street that they live on as a compelling reason why they love Delray and chose to buy a home here. Of course, there are other factors, but the allure seemed to be a small town, with big city amenities, including festivals, art, culture, restaurants and yes tennis.

I bring this up because there seems to be some angst regarding the cost of the stadium and the tournaments which also include some national junior events and a Champions Tour event which brings  legends like McEnroe and Lendl to town.

As the city grapples with the budget, $2 million items stand out. There is a price to pay to host these events, a real cost that becomes acute when there are other needs including paying for cops, firefighters, public works employees, pension costs etc. etc. The list goes on; I get it, having worked on seven budgets during my time in public office. Unlike the federal government, local government budgets have to balance and expenditures needs to be weighed carefully against city goals and visions. Hopefully, those goals and visions mesh with the community’s needs and aspirations and derive from extensive community input. That’s been the Delray way.

So what about the big expense associated with the stadium and the ATP event?

Should the city sell the stadium? Should the city get rid of the tournament? Or should the city further invest in the facility which is now starting to show its age (I’m not sure the seats were meant to recline, just saying)?

This is a healthy debate to have, but if you are going to have it, you need to look beyond the balance sheet, which while very important, is only one piece of the puzzle–albeit a big piece.

Decisions of this magnitude require careful analysis of a wide range of factors. There’s a lot of nuance involved beyond numbers on a spreadsheet.

There is no doubt that the ATP event attracts people who spend money in local restaurants, retail shops and hotels. Does the city see that money? Not directly, but a healthy local economy certainly helps pay the bills. And the junior events, held in the so-called “off season” puts heads in beds as kids typically are accompanied by coaches, parents, siblings and others who hope to see the next generation of stars.

Further, tennis has done a lot for the city’s image and brand, as Mayor Lynch envisioned. I think we may be the smallest city in the world with an ATP event and the coverage that event receives is worldwide via press, TV and even commercial spots done expressly to exhibit Delray Beach to the world. I did one of those spots a few years back, produced pro bono by local resident Jim Sclafani of Multi Image Group. We received inquiries about visits and real estate for months after the spots ran.

It wasn’t my face or voice over that did the trick (after all, I have a face for radio) but shots of the ocean, the vibrant downtown and quaint neighborhoods that compelled more than a few people seek us out.

I recently read an article about Apple’s $3 billion plus purchase of Beats, a trendy headphone company. Did Apple overpay for a fad? Maybe. Did Apple need the headphones to survive? Hardly.

But Apple saw a need to remain relevant with a demographic it deems important for its future. Cities also have to remain cognizant of their appeal as places to live, work, learn and play. In that context, the ATP event and stadium has a cool factor attached to it. I think it’s an asset. It sets us apart, it gives our downtown gravitas and it signals that this is a different kind of place.

Of course, Delray doesn’t have Apple’s war chest, few nations, never mind cities do. So how about forming a public private task force that could look at ways to stop some of the bleeding and perhaps find some additional revenue streams?
There are some very bright entrepreneurial minds in the community who I am certain would be interested in delving into the issue.

Rather than dismiss and label a facility a losing proposition, why not engage people and find some solutions?

Why not find a way to make this long ago investment work now and in the future? Or at least try.



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