‘Everyone’s attention is on this:’ Mason unveils plan to keep W&S Open in Greater Cincinnati

The tournament’s new owner is contemplating a move to North Carolina.
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 7:01 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Presentations from the City of Mason and Beemok Capital are embedded at the end of this story.

WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - Mason City Council on Monday unanimously approved a financing package to fund improvements to the Lindner Family Tennis Center with the aim of keeping the Western & Southern Open from moving out of the region.

The city will pledge $15 million to retain the tournament as part of an economic partnership agreement with the tournament’s current owner, Charleston-based Beemok Capital. The city is also authorized to use other economic development tools on the project.

Beemok purchased the Western & Southern Open from the United States Tennis Association in 2022 at a reported price of $250 million. It has contemplated moving the tournament to Charlotte.

A Western & Southern spokesperson called Monday’s action “an important step in demonstrating our collective effort to do all we can do to keep the tournament here.”

The total public contribution could be up to $50.5 million. That sum would include Mason’s stake as well as $10.5 million from Warren County and $25 million in state funds contained in the 2024/25 operating budget bill passed by the Ohio House in April. The budget bill must still make it through the Ohio Senate before it heads to the governor’s desk.

Ohio Sen. Steve Wilson (R-Warren County) appeared at Monday’s meeting, saying the region is in “a dog fight.” He guaranteed the $25 million in state money will pass as a new “super capital budget” item. He also said the budget will contain more than $1 billion of community development money for which Beemok could apply.

“The commitment is there from the administration. The commitment is there from the House. The commitment is there from the Senate. We want you here. We’re gonna keep you here,” Wilson said in comments addressed to Beemok COO Ford Perry.

Perry appeared Monday by Zoom due to a positive COVID-19 test.

An artists rendering of a potential expansion to the Western & Southern Open in Mason.
An artists rendering of a potential expansion to the Western & Southern Open in Mason.(City of Mason/Provided)

The financing plan is part of a significant regional campaign involving a long list of public officials, economic development partners and business leaders to keep the tournament in the Cincinnati area, where it was founded 124 years ago.

“There has been a lot of work at all levels of our organization as well as Warren County and the state,” Mason Assistant City Manager Jennifer Heft said. “Everyone’s attention is on this project. It is a top priority.”

Mason began outreach with Beemok last year to outline what it would take to retain the tournament. The city and Beemok have been working on plans to improve the tournament campus with that goal in mind ever since, even as Beemok has pursued a similar path in Charlotte. Whether the city and Beemok are collaborating or merely pursuing the plans in parallel remains unclear. Mason officials on Monday, for example, made significant mention of shared facilities and joint operations between the tournament and the adjacent Grizzly Golf Course which the Beemok presentation does not reference.

Beemok’s plan includes a $375 million expansion/renovation project for the Mason campus. The firm expects at least the initial $150 million phase of the project to be one-third publicly funded.

In particular, the tournament would need to double in size by 2025 to comply with a new combined initiative of the professional men’s and women’s tennis associations, the ATP and WTA. The initiative seeks to bolster the 1000 Masters events, of which there are nine worldwide including Mason’s.

Previously the 1000 Masters events lasted one week and fielded draws of around 56 players, as compared to the four tennis majors, which last more than two weeks and field draws 128 players. The ATP and WTA want to see the 1000 Masters events go to two-week events with 96-player draws, effectively doubling their size and duration.

The 1000 Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami already made the transition. The Italian Open and the Madrid Open did so in 2023.

The larger draw and longer event would increase the Western & Southern Open’s annual attendance from 180,000 to more than 250,000 and annual economic impact for the region from $70 million to more than $207 million, according to a University of Cincinnati Economics Center study commissioned by Mason.

But getting there will be a challenge.

“There are a lot of gaps and deficiencies in the campus relative to what’s required for the expansion of the tournament in 2025, and there’s gaps and deficiencies with respect to expanding this campus into something that [makes] this a year-round facility,” Perry said.

The project to expand the Lindner Family Tennis Center would add more than dozen new courts, a new player building, new green space, new entry plazas and a new fan plaza. It would also involve extensive renovations.

Our media partners at the Enquirer obtained city documents showing Mason is interested in purchasing land north of the tournament campus owned by Sinclair Community College for a an entrance boulevard. Beemok’s presentation stipulates the boulevard in its master plan, and the city’s presentation describes an agreement with Sinclair that is “underway.”

Hotel capacity isn’t expected to be an issue, according to Julie Calvert, president and CEO of VisitCincy, and Phil Smith, president and CEO of the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Calvert says there are more than 28,000 hotel rooms in Hamilton County, and Smith says Butler and Warren counties put the total above 35,000. That’s enough to support a tournament expansion without adding more rooms, they say.

Other long-term improvements Beemok wants for the campus include indoor courts, pickleball courts, a permanent restaurant and technology enhancements. Beemok also wants the site to be retrofitted for all-year use, including the ability to convert Center Court into a concert venue for touring acts, festivals and community use.

“We believe the tournament in Mason has the potential to be much more than a site for two weeks of professional tennis,” Perry said. “We’ve spent months with our architects and with professionals in the tennis world thinking about what that campus can be beyond the days of the tournament. We expect it to be a sports tourism catalyst and activate the campus for the broader community.”

The project would create or retain 1,600 permanent jobs and create 1,424 construction jobs, according to the UC study. It would also generate or retain $54.4 million in earnings taxes.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please click here to report it and include the headline of the story in your email.

Do you have a photo or video of a breaking news story? Send it to us here with a brief description.