A professional tennis tournament wants to come to Burnaby, but city council isn’t in love with the idea.
VanOpen, the largest men’s and women’s professional tennis tournament in Western Canada which boasts “alumni” such as Bianca Andreescu, Maria Sharapova and Leylah Fernandez, has no place to go this year, after its space at the private Hollyburn Country Club in Vancouver closed for major renovations.
Tournament directors said the sports complex at Burnaby Lake is the only venue in B.C. that can accommodate the event.
Organizers are asking the city for use of 17 tennis courts at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex from Aug. 10 to 19 as well as sections of Christine Sinclair Community Centre for a player-only gym, media room, exclusive change rooms, sauna and steam room for players between Aug. 11 and 20.
Six of the courts would be used from July 20 to Aug. 23.
While there are other private clubs with tennis courts, they don’t have the number of courts needed to host the combined men’s and women’s event.
“So it would be losing the event potentially,” tournament director Rik de Voest told city council on Jan. 23, adding Burnaby was the only location found that could accommodate the “stringent criteria” required by the sports’ governing bodies.
VanOpen would bring value: director
The tournament would bring an estimated $1.5 million to the city in economic value from tourism and more, according to the tournament’s partnerships and operations director Jessica Walker
Walker outlined benefits to Burnaby’s hotel and restaurant industries, as well as offered an exclusive food and beverage contract to the city, which she said totalled $300,000 in sales last year.
The VanOpen directors presented a “wish list,” including:
- upgrading the tennis courts by resurfacing and repainting to international standards (estimated at $10,000 per court),
- rent-free use of the tennis courts and certain facilities,
- halting pile-driving during the event at nearby construction,
- a second foot bridge over the ditch between grass field 1 and Sperling Avenue,
- use of a meeting room at Burnaby Sports Complex from July 3 to the end of August,
- staff support,
- a $200,000 grant from the City of Burnaby and the Province of B.C.
Council not in love
Not all city councillors were impressed with the proposal.
“It sounds like a lot of cost to the city and a lot of displacement to the city,” said Burnaby Citizens Association (BCA) Coun. Alison Gu.
She estimated a ballpark figure of $300,000 the city would be contributing and questioned the feasibility of the six-month timeline.
Green Party Coun. Joe Keithley also turned down the idea.
“I’m quite concerned about the amount of public facilities that will be chewed up by this during the primetime, when people will want to be outside playing tennis,” Keithley said.
BCA Coun. Pietro Calendino, meanwhile, asked if the tournament could be renamed to BurnabyOpen.
Staff will now study the cost and feasibility of the project and report back to council as soon as possible.
The VanOpen directors said they needed a decision by around mid-February.
Chance to fast-track Pacific Tennis Centre
Michael Downey, CEO of Tennis Canada, dangled a carrot in front of council, suggesting hosting the tournament could speed up the development of the Pacific Tennis Centre.
The PTC is a state-of-the-art training facility planned for Burnaby Lake announced in 2018 and originally scheduled for completion in 2023.
“At Tennis Canada, we strongly believe that if Burnaby accepts this tournament and stages it for at least two years, it will actually bring phenomenal fanfare to the future of a Pacific Tennis Centre,” he said.
Downey said if VanOpen came to Burnaby, and Tennis Canada were able to get the money required from the provincial and federal governments, Tennis Canada would “try to expedite the work in (2024) so that the extra courts that are being built would actually be available” in August 2024.
De Voest said the tournament could become a permanent fixture in Burnaby due to the connection with the training centre.
VanOpen runs on the Women’s Tennis Association and Association of Tennis Professionals tours and is the largest pro tennis event in the Pacific Northwest. Last year’s event drew 128 athletes from 35 countries.
More information on VanOpen’s plan can be found as a report on the city’s webpage.
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