Thursday, December 07, 2000

Deal would keep tourney in Mason

City ponders buying tennis, golf facilities

By Cliff Peale and Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Greater Cincinnati's signature professional tennis tournament would remain in Mason under a deal now under negotiation between the city of Mason and American Financial Group Inc.

        Under the proposed deal, American Financial, controlled by Carl Lindner Jr. and owner of the golf and tennis facilities near Paramount's Kings Island, would sell the Bruin Golf Course off Interstate 71 to the city for an estimated $17 million.

        Mason — perhaps with help from Warren County — would then lease the tennis center to the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati to hold its annual tournament in August, according to officials in Warren County and leaders of the tennis tournament.

        While the deal is not final, it would enable the Masters Series to expand the complex, either by adding more seats and luxury boxes to the current stadium or building another one entirely.

        It also could end the fledgling talks that the tennis tournament was having with other locations in Greater Cincinnati's suburbs.

        If the sale goes through, Mason would acquire dozens of acres of prime property along I-71 to either operate as a municipal golf course or redevelop, along with a sprawling tennis complex available 50 weeks of the year.

        Officials on all sides said there was no signed deal, but several confirmed the proposed sale and lease.

        “That has been discussed,” said Paul Flory, director of the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati. “We've been the lessee of the stadium up there, and that could continue.”

        Mason officials would not comment on the proposed deal, but Warren County Commissioner Pat South confirmed that Mason officials have approached Warren County about helping to pay for the land purchase and possible joint operation of the tennis and golf facility.

        “The city of Mason did ask us if we could provide them with any financial assistance on potentially purchasing property at the Golf Center,” Mrs. South said. “We told them we could not use taxpayers' dollars to fund a project like this, but there is a 1 percent lodging tax that we could draw money from.”

        Mrs. South said the tax would generate about $300,000 a year that the county could contribute to the project for up to 10 years. However, she said, no action has been taken by commissioners.

        “I have high hopes that Mason will be able to keep the tournament in Warren County,” she said.

        American Financial officials would not comment.

        Mason Assistant City Manager Eric Hansen said the city's goal was to keep the tournament. He would not comment on how the city would finance a purchase or how it would operate the golf course and tennis complex.

        “We're still exploring different scenarios,” he said.

        Warren County leaders said keeping the two-week event there is critical because of its economic impact. The Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated that the Tennis Masters Series pumps more than $22 million annually into the regional economy and $17 million into Warren County's.

        “That's a big impact for a 10-day event,” said John Harris, president of the Mason-Landen-Kings Chamber of Commerce. “It would be a devastating loss to the area to lose a world-class event like this.”

        The deal could be a solution to months of talks.

        Mr. Flory first started talking early this year about moving the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati. He said the facility needs a retractable roof, at least 3,000 more seats and about a dozen more luxury boxes.

        Currently, the 20-year-old stadium court seats about 10,500, with 14 luxury suites. This year, the tournament drew attendance of almost 170,000 fansduring the two weeks.

        The tournament's lease runs through 2005.

        “We're anxious to make some changes in our facility, whether it's there or somewhere else,” Mr. Flory said.

        He said players love the Warren County location because of the convenient golf — the Bruin is the smaller of two courses there — and the proximity to Kings Island just across the highway.


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