Indoor tennis center in works

Businessman seeks site in west Lawrence

Mike Elwell is working on plans for opening a new indoor tennis center in Lawrence.

“I’m very serious,” said Elwell, a former district court judge who owns Abe & Jake’s Landing in downtown Lawrence. “We’re too big of a community not to have a facility.”

Elwell, long active in Lawrence tennis circles, figures the time is right to open an indoor center. He said he’d already located a suitable site in western Lawrence, but declined to discuss it Wednesday because he had yet to close the purchase.

His concept: Build a 27,000-square-foot center, with four tennis courts and an indoor fitness area, on two to three acres.

Elwell expects the project to cost between $1 million and $1.5 million and be financed by a mixture of long-term minded investors, paying members and, perhaps, commitments from public entities such as the city of Lawrence and Kansas University.

“For young players to really compete and have a shot at college scholarships, they have to have something that’s available year-round,” said Elwell, whose son, Scott, plays tennis at the University of Iowa. “Everyone they compete against does, and you can’t stay up to speed just hitting the ball in the summer months. That’s what disappoints me. There was a time that Lawrence was really strong, with a good tennis nucleus : and that’s going to be pretty hard to get back if you can only practice six months of the year.”

The KU women’s tennis team conducts its indoor practices in Topeka and Overland Park, road trips that became imperative following the 2002 sale of Alvamar Country Club’s indoor tennis courts at 4120 Clinton Parkway.

Alvamar shed its center after losing an average of $100,000 a year on its operations for 25 years, Alvamar officials have said. Bishop Seabury Academy bought the place and converted it into a school.

Jim Marchiony, an associate athletics director at KU, said the Jayhawks would appreciate having a place in town to play. The university wants to build a tennis center of its own – a project Marchiony describes as a “priority” for the next five to 10 years – but the concept is competing with demands for a new women’s soccer field, completion of a women’s softball complex and construction of a weight room, study areas and other needs for football.

“Anything that would enable the women’s tennis team to stay closer to home would be terrific. We’d certainly be interested in talking about it,” Marchiony said, of Elwell’s plans. “And there’s a lot of good high school tennis here. An indoor facility could help us develop our program to where we want it to be.”

Youths and college students wouldn’t be the only ones served by a indoor center, Elwell said. Plenty of Lawrence retirees – himself included – could use a break from traveling to Topeka or Kansas City-area clubs for a few hours of fun and exercise.

Elwell would hope to start by having 50 or so people sign up for family memberships, each paying $75 to $100 a month for the ability to stay in town to play. The numbers would be expected to grow, until the center could break even or possibly earn a small profit.

“It’ll be a five-year process, hopefully, of rebuilding that base group of people who want to play,” Elwell said. “There’s a lot of interest.”