Newport Daily News Reports: Great Progress on Hall of Fame Expansion Project

Newport Daily News Reports: Great Progress on Hall of Fame Expansion Project

During the summer, the International Tennis Hall of Fame announced plans to embark on a 2-year, $15.7 million renovation and expansion project which will result in additional tennis courts, a new building on the property, and a complete upgrade and renovation to the museum exhibits. An important focus of the project is to enhance the neighborhood and to ensure that any and all work is done in keepng with the historic look of the existing National Historic Landmark property. The process of obtaining necessary permits has begun, and, below, the Newport Daily News reports that it is off to a good start. 

By Sean Flynn, Newport Daily News Staff writer 
December 10, 2013

NEWPORT — The International Tennis Hall of Fame received permission Tuesday night to demolish four buildings on Memorial Boulevard and to move a fifth to make way for a new tennis complex at the site that will include indoor and outdoor courts, a fitness center, locker rooms, offices and retail locations.

The merger of the five parcels creates a more than two-acre site for the proposed new construction.

The nine-member Planning Board gave unanimous approval to each demolition permit and the relocation permit and welcomed the pending transformation of the corner of Memorial Boulevard and Freebody Street, which Chairman James Dring called “an eyesore.”

The new building housing the indoor tennis courts and the building housing the fitness center, offices and shops will be built in the shinglestyle architecture reminiscent of the famous Casino building.

“The International Tennis Hall of Fame is taking the classic architecture it has on Bellevue Avenue and bringing it around the corner to Memorial Boulevard,” Dring said.

The Tennis Hall of Fame has hired Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York to design the complex. Stern is known in Newport for designing Salve Regina University’s Rodgers Recreation Center, which was completed in 2000 and praised for its classical design. Stern also designed Our Lady of Mercy Chapel on the Salve Regina campus, which won the firm a 2012 Palladio Award as an outstanding commercial project. “He is famous for melding his buildings into neighborhoods,” said attorney Turner C. Scott, who is representing the International Tennis Hall of Fame during the permitting process before city boards. The Zoning Board of Review and the Historic District Commission also must approve the project before it can move forward.

Planning Board members did not leave any question where they stand.

“It couldn’t be better for Newport,” board member Tod Murphy said. “It’s fantastic.”

The Tennis Hall of Fame will demolish the green metal building at the corner of Memorial Boulevard and Hayden Court, as well as the office and retail building at 11 Memorial Blvd., which recently housed Franklin & Co. Interiors and offices. In addition, the Water Bros. Surf & Skate building at 23 Memorial Blvd., and the Sunoco gas station at the corner of Memorial Boulevard and Freebody Street will be razed. 

The plan calls for the Victorian apartment building located behind Water Bros., at 17 Memorial Blvd., to be moved to the rear of the large parcel at 30 Red Cross Ave., so it fronts Rhode Island Avenue. That is pending Historic District Commission approval. 

The Tennis Hall of Fame is hoping the demolitions and the move can take place in May or June.

A new building will house three indoor tennis courts; just behind it will be three new outdoor tennis courts that will be built under a “bubble” that can be retracted in the summer months, Scott said. 

“We want people playing tennis in the corner building by next winter,” said Daniel Paquette, the project coordinator for the Hall of Fame. “Overall, it will be a 1½- to 2-year project.” 

Planning, acquiring the properties and designing the project has been going on for the past 2½ years, he said. 

“All of us at the International Tennis Hall of Fame are very excited about the positive response and approval from the Planning Board for the upcoming project,” Paquette wrote in an email soon after the board’s decision. 

“The Tennis Hall of Fame will have a real campus that is contiguous instead of the chopped up campus that it currently has,” Scott said. 

The entrance to the recently renovated and restored Stanford White Casino Theatre will be opened up. Another part of the project is to redo the museum, as well as the stands surrounding existing tennis courts to make them more accommodating to spectators, he said. 

Hayden Court no longer will exist, merging into the overall parcel for the new Hall of Fame campus. 

The new buildings and tennis courts will cover 32,555 square feet, which by city ordinance would require 267 parking spaces. The parking requirement is very difficult to meet in Newport, Planning Board members noted. 

The project creates 41 parking spaces, which is a lot more than exists there now, Scott said. Additional on-street parking spaces will be created by closing existing curb cuts. 

However, a variance on the parking requirement will be required from the Zoning Board of Review. 

City Planner Melissa D. Stolhammer provided a nine page report on the project that includes a series of recommendations adopted by the Planning Board. 

Before demolition can proceed, the Tennis Hall of Fame will be required to submit an environmental site assessment, stormwater management plan and demolition staging plan for each property. 

Scott called Stolhammer’s report the most comprehensive he has seen during his 35-year career dealing with city boards. 

James Gordon Bennett, the publisher of the New York Herald, opened the Newport Casino in 1881, and it soon became the site of national championship tennis tournaments. 

James H. Van Alen and his wife, Candace Van Alen, founded the Tennis Hall of Fame at the Casino in the early 1950s. They lobbied the U.S. Tennis Association to sanction a National Hall of Fame in Newport. The acceptance came in 1954, and the museum became the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1975. 

The whole Casino complex was designated a National Historic Landmark in February 1987.