Wednesday, December 06, 2000

New tennis tourney site discussed

Mason eager to keep series

By Kevin Aldridge and Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — The fate of the home of Tennis Master Series Cincinnati may soon be decided — as the year-end deadline the tournament's organizers set for the final call approaches.

        It has been confirmed that American Financial Group Inc. and the city of Mason have been in talks about plans for a number of different sites for the tournament, including a possible new stadium at the Bruin Course at the Golf Center at Kings Island. City officials said Tuesday they are committed to ensuring that the tournament stays in Mason.

        “Nothing has been finalized and no deals have been made, but our interest is to keep the Tennis Masters Series in Mason,” said Assistant City Manager Eric Hansen. “We have been in discussions with tournament officials about a number of different scenarios that could make that happen, but it is all still very tentative.”

        An official for American Financial Group — controlled by Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner — acknowledged the talks but would not provide details of the discussions.

        It does appear that if the talks are successful, the tournament would stay in the Cincinnati area.

        Melissa Koehler, Mason's former economic development director, was involved in some of the early discussions about the tournament. Mrs. Koehler said the city was entertaining all feasible options for retaining the tournament, including possibly building a new multipurpose facility elsewhere or upgrading the current stadium.

        But it's not just Mason that has been talking about the tournament.

        “There have been discussions taking place with people in Mason and Butler County and also discussions with people in Warren County,” said Paul Flory, director of the Tennis Master Series Cincinnati Tournament.

        “It's not for me to answer in regards to American Financial and Mason as to what they are doing.”

        With an eye on the future, Mr. Flory earlier this year asked Mr. Lindner about his plans for the ATP Tennis Center once the tournament's lease expires in 2005.

        The Cincinnati businessman, who owns the property across the highway from Paramount's Kings Island, said he was not sure.

        So Mr. Flory began exploring possibilities in Butler County, Warren County, Northern Kentucky and elsewhere in Greater Cincinnati.

        He continued to talk with Mr. Lindner and worked with officials in other areas.

        By the end of the calendar year, he said, he wanted to know where the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati's future lies.

        Mr. Flory said in April the tournament — a mandatory stop for players on the ATP professional tour — would like a new stadium with:

        • A retractable roof to provide shade for spectators and cover during bad weather.

        • Luxury boxes, which are being built in other sports stadiums, including some on the professional tennis tour.

        • A seating capacity of 13,000 to 14,000. The stadium in Mason seats 10,500.

        Mr. Hansen said it is unknown when or whether the city will be able to reach a deal with tournament officials. Mason City Council has only one meeting left before the end of the year, on Monday.

        Council has discussed the matter several times in executive session. Under Mason's charter, council can discuss only personnel matters, litigation or land acquisition in private.

        “We are hoping that (the Tennis Masters Series) will continue to stay in Mason,” said Mason Vice Mayor Jim Fox. “It's a great attraction and one of the highlights for the city in any given year. We would hope some kind of arrangements could be made to allow it to stay.

        “Anything that is discussed in executive session cannot be discussed outside of executive session,” Mr. Fox said. “There have been some talks with certain individuals, but what those negotiations are about, I'm not at liberty to say.”

       Enquirer reporter Cliff Peale contributed to this story.


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