Tennis pro shop on the way

City approves plans for $500,000 center

HARLINGEN — For 10 years, area tennis players have used a modular building as headquarters of the HEB Tennis Center.

At Pendleton Park, the old revamped trailer offers players a cramped restroom, little room to cool off after matches and nowhere to shower.

Last week, city commissioners approved plans to build a $500,000, 2,160-square-foot pro shop featuring a 1,540-square-foot patio.

The pro shop, featuring a brick-and-wood exterior, will include an office, training room, spectator area, ice machine, restrooms and a shower.

“I feel super-excited,” Eva Chipps, whose children used to play the courts there, said. “We love it. It’s really nice. We’ve been pushing and pushing trying to get this project going.”

Officials plan to use money remaining from a 2001 bond issue to fund the project.

In 2009, the city renovated the tennis center, razing its old pro shop.

While original plans called for a new pro shop, cost-cutting steps led the city to delay its construction.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Tom Kimbriel, whose wife Colleen plays the courts on which their children honed their skills. “It’s really needed.”

For 10 years, Don VanRamhorst, the tennis pro who serves as the center’s manager, has struggled to help players cope with the pro shop’s tight quarters.

“There’s only one toilet in this building and no place to hang out or sit,” he said.

Tennis center to draw tournaments

The new pro shop will allow the center to host tournaments, drawing players and tourist dollars to town, Chipps said.

“We will be able to bring bigger tournaments to the city, to the hotels and restaurants,” she said.

As a result of the pro shop’s limited restroom facilities, Chipps said, the U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t grant permits to allow the center to host tournaments.

“Although tennis doesn’t make money through ticket sales, it is an attraction for the people coming for tennis,” Kimbriel said.

Tennis, he said, also helps draw new residents to town, including Winter Texans.

For players, a good tennis center can turn into a top selling point when it comes to picking a new community to call home, he said.

“Any city’s goal should be to attract new residents,” he said.

The tennis circuit also puts a big spotlight on the city.

Last month, the center held a professional tournament advertised on the Tennis Channel, Kimbriel said.

The tournament, which drew more than 200 visitors, was moved to the center’s lighted courts because the Harlingen Country Club, which hosted the event, lacked sufficient lighting.

What’s in the pro shop?

Last week, Chris Sias, an architect with Megamophosis Design, presented commissioners with the proposed pro shop’s features.

“It’s very, very attractive,” Mayor Chris Boswell said.

The pro shop will feature spectator seating.

“When you watch a pro play, you want to be in a comfortable place,” Chipps said. “I love it. It’s really necessary. It’s important especially for visitors so they can watch the children.”

The pro shop will also offer players an area to cool down after matches.

“In the summer, it gets so hot,” Chipps said. “The kids need a place to cool off and rest.”

After debate, commissioners agreed to include two showers — one for males, the other for females.

Kimbriel described showers as “kind of key.”

“It helps cool you down after a match,” Chipps said.

Now, Kimbriel said, many players don’t take to the courts during their lunch breaks because the tennis center lacks showers.

“For the average citizens in Harlingen, you can’t play and go back to work,” he said.

In February, officials are expected to award a bid for the pro shop’s construction, projected to be completed within nine months.