article RolandGarros

French Vote to Expand Roland Garros Site


 Rafael Nadal, foreground, at the French Open. There are plans to expand and refit the grounds.
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREYPublished: February 13, 2011

French Vote to Expand Roland Garros Site

The French Open will remain at Roland Garros Stadium in Paris and expand after a decision Sunday by French tennis federation officials. 

It required three rounds of voting at the federation’s general assembly, but Paris prevailed convincingly over three larger, significantly more expensive alternative sites in the suburbs: Gonesse to the north, Versailles to the west and Marne-la-Vallée to the east.
Gonesse was eliminated in the first round and Versailles in the second. Paris then received the two-thirds majority required for a decision by defeating Marne-la-Vallée with a little more than 70 percent of the vote in the third round.

“It’s an innovative choice, respectful of history that remains true to our values,” said Jean Gachassin, the president of the French Tennis Federation. “Roland Garros has a strong and unique image and possesses global prestige due to the city of Paris. We could not fail to consider that.”
Some of the vanquished attacked the decision as being anything but innovative.
“French tennis still has an aristocratic and elitist perspective in terms of choosing sites,” said Jean-Pierre Blazy, the mayor of Gonesse. “It’s a missed opportunity for French tennis and for greater Paris in the 21st century. This is not the choice of the future.”

The French Open has been at its existing site since 1928, when Roland Garros Stadium was built in less than a year to provide a suitably grand location for the defense of the Davis Cup title. Roland Garros has been renovated and expanded considerably since then. But the French Open remains, by far, the smallest of the four Grand Slam tournaments, with 21 acres, compared with 34.5 acres at the United States Open and 47 acres at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
Concerns about space and amenities were central to the decision to accept alternative bids with the current agreement with the City of Paris set to expire in 2015. The move was initially viewed as nothing more than a bargaining chip, and it ultimately played that role, as Paris and its mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, made significant concessions in the lead-up to the vote.

Losing the French Open would have been a significant blow to Delanoë, given that Paris had failed to win the right to stage the 2012 Olympics during his tenure, losing to London by four votes.
That Olympic defeat also scuttled plans to build a new tennis stadium with a retractable roof inside the vast public park, the Bois de Boulogne, next to Roland Garros. But the plan, after the vote Sunday, is to renovate and cover the center court, known as the Philippe Chatrier court, and to expand the grounds to about 33 acres by taking over nearby municipal courts and, more controversially, expanding into the adjacent public botanical gardens, the Serres d’Auteuil.
A new show court with at least 5,000 seats is to be built inside the gardens, and, according to Delanoë and French tennis officials, it will conform to the architectural style of the grand greenhouses already on site. But more than 35,000 people have supported an online petition against the move, and legal challenges — a staple of development projects in Paris — are considered possible.
“This project breaks no law,” Gilbert Ysern, the general director of the tennis federation, said at a news conference Sunday.

The larger concern is whether the new Roland Garros, set to be completed by 2016 at an estimated cost of 250 million euros, or nearly $340 million, will allow the French Open to remain competitive with its rivals. It is distinctive as the only Grand Slam tournament played on clay.
Versailles was long considered the most attractive alternative to Paris because of its name recognition and proximity to the chateau of Versailles, but Gachassin said that doubts about whether it could deliver a new facility on the site of a former military base by 2016 weighed on its candidacy. Gachassin said the decision to remain in Paris was “a countercurrent to the gigantism that is fashionable” elsewhere.

“We have decided to remain different and preserve our personality,” said Ysern, who added that the tournament would not have stayed put without a roof or more room for players.
Ysern said the retractable roof would allow for the French Open to be used for night sessions in 2016, another move that could generate legal challenges from local residents. If night sessions are approved, Wimbledon will be the only Grand Slam event not to stage matches at night.
There are no firm plans yet to cover the French Open’s second-biggest show court, the Suzanne Lenglen court. The current No. 1 court, an intimate circular showplace built in 1980 and known as the bullring, is set to be demolished to create more space for hospitality and other facilities.
But the French accent will be on construction, not demolition, in the years to come, and there should be plenty more to come at Roland Garros, with the new lease set to run for 99 years at only a modest increase in rent.

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