Key Biscayne

Sony Open organizers eager to renovate Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park Tennis Center

Organizers of the Sony Open said Wednesday they hope to begin upgrading the Crandon Park Tennis Center in a year, after voters agreed in November to give the facility a $50-million makeover.

First, the tennis tournament and Miami-Dade County will have to come to terms over the renovations for the county-owned park. Those discussions have yet to begin. Meanwhile, a critic of the proposal has sued to halt the plans.

In an attempt to jump-start the talks, tournament organizers offered a timeline Wednesday, saying at a news conference held on the 10th day of the popular Key Biscayne event that they would like to begin the first phase of construction on April 1, 2014.

“We’re moving as quickly as we can,” said Adam Barrett, senior vice president of IMG, which runs the tournament.

Among the first improvements would be multistory stadium additions and permanent courtside grandstands, Barrett said. The first phase would have to be completed before the annual tournament begins the following year, in March 2015. During construction, portions of the tennis center unaffected by the work would remain open to the public, he said.

Any plans would require county approval.

The tournament and its supporters say the face-lift is necessary to continue attracting major players to tennis’s “fifth Grand Slam,” which draws throngs of fans — particularly from South America — every spring.

The renovations would be financed by private Sony Open funds and tennis center and tournament revenues — ticket surcharges and parking fees — without a reduction to the event’s payments to the county. Miami-Dade would have to issue $50 million in bonds that would be paid off with tournament dollars, without the county being on the hook, organizers say.

“Thank God, taxpayers won’t have to pay a cent for these improvements,” retired tennis player Mary Joe Fernandez, who grew up in Miami, said in Spanish at the news conference.

Nearly 73 percent of voters backed the expansion in a referendum last year. The proposal required approval from at least two-thirds of the electorate under a county charter provision adopted in 1993 known as “Save Our Parks.” The referendum also allowed the tournament to extend its lease, set to expire in nine years, to a total of 30 years, with two optional, 10-year extensions.

The election language is the subject of a lawsuit by Bruce Matheson, a member of the family that donated the park land to the county more than seven decades ago. Matheson, who also pushed the Save Our Parks provision requiring voter approval, contends the referendum language was misleading and the county charter was violated by having voters weigh in on a conceptual, rather than specific, plan. The county has asked the court to dismiss the complaint.

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