Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 22, 2023 with the latest information.
A Charleston firm is asking the public to invest in a $400-million, four-stadium tennis campus at the River District in west Charlotte.
What’s happening: Beemok Sports is looking for a new home for the Western & Southern Open. The rights to the tournament, held in the Cincinnati area, were acquired by Beemok from the United States Tennis Association in September.
Why it matters: This could be the biggest economic development win for the city of Charlotte in years.
- The project would put the Masters 1000 tournament, one of the “most prestigious trophies in all of tennis,” close to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and in the heart of the River District, a 1,400-acre mixed-use development underway.
[Go deeper: The largest swath of undeveloped land left in Charlotte is under construction]
Details: Beemok has dubbed its plan “Project Break Point.” It’s asking the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to help cover one-third of the price tag, around $130 million. The City of Charlotte is looking at contributing $60 million to $70 million in hospitality funds. The State of North Carolina could also partner.
- Plus, the airport could provide 100 acres for parking, which the city could use for other large-scale tourism events it hosts, assistant city manager Tracy Dodson says.
- The campus would host 200 events a year, including collegiate and junior championships, pickleball matches, festivals and concerts, Beemok’s Ford Perry said during a joint city and county economic development committee meeting Wednesday.
- Residents would be able to play on the courts at a cost. The company charges a $10 hourly rate at its Charleston location. There would be free hours for school children and need-based residents.
By the numbers: The Western & Southern Open would be a two-week event each August. Proponents say it would have an annual economic impact of around $265 million, drawing approximately 350,000 attendees. That’s more than the 2022 President’s Cup and Wells Fargo Championship.
- The TV audience reaches 62.7 million viewers, per Beemok’s presentation.
- The campus itself would draw 650,000-plus attendees a year.
“Charlotte is trying to establish itself as a world city,” city council member Ed Driggs said. “You take an event like this and that’s a step in that direction. That’s an important step because of the international audience there is for tennis.”
The intrigue: Beemok Capital is owned by Charleston billionaire Ben Navarro, who tried to buy the Carolina Panthers in 2018 before David Tepper ultimately did.
- Beemok operates Credit One Stadium in Charleston, which will host a slate of musical acts, including Dave Matthews Band, and hosts the Charleston Open.
What’s next: Beemok hopes to relocate the tournament by 2026. It is considering other locations — it hasn’t mentioned which ones, besides Cincinnati where the tournament is currently held — so the city must act fast to stay in the running.
- To meet the tight timeline, city council and county commissioners would need to make a decision about public funding soon — possibly within the next two months. Perry said they want to decide on a long-term location for the tournament by summer.
- “Charlotte has always been top of our list with respect to what the opportunity could be for this tournament,” Perry said.
Catch up quick: The River District, once complete, will span 1,400 acres. It’s set to reshape west Charlotte with more than 5,000 residences, offices and retail, and 1,000 hotel rooms.
- Developer Crescent Communities is conserving 550 acres as open space, including 30 parks and 30 miles of trails that could intersect with the tennis complex.
- Construction is underway at the River District. The first homes will be finished in 2024.
Of note: Nonprofit Carolina Serves has also proposed a Charlotte racquet complex at the old Eastland Mall site in east Charlotte. But the city is entertaining another pitch for an athletics, events and esports center called QC East and has floated the idea of building a publicly owned sports tourism venue.