New Rideau Tennis Club owners to bring more sports to 105-year-old facility

The new owners of Ottawa's historic Rideau Tennis Club say they'll be bringing new sports to the 105-year-old facility while also vowing to honour the club's "storied past."

Rideau Sports Centre vows to respect club's 'storied past' after sale announced Monday

The Rideau Tennis Club has been sold to a new organization calling itself the Rideau Sports Centre, the club's former owners announced Monday. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The new owners of Ottawa's historic Rideau Tennis Club say they'll be bringing new sports to the 105-year-old facility while also vowing to honour the club's "storied past."

On Monday, the RA Centre announced they had sold the club on the banks of the Rideau River to a "new organization" called the Rideau Sports Centre.

Its CEO, Nicki Bridgland, founded the Ottawa Sports and Social Club, which oversees dozens of sports leagues around the city.

"This new organization is going to respect the storied past of the Rideau Tennis Club," Bridgland told CBC News. 

She's working with advisers in the tennis community and architect Barry Padolsky, himself a club member, to look at how to update the facility as it opens up to more public use and new sports, she said.

'The key here is introducing a diversity of sport'

The RA Centre, which has run the club since 2004, said a change in the tennis market over the last decade made it difficult to make money at the facility.

But Bridgland said there's high demand for sports facilities in Ottawa.

Members play on one of the Rideau Tennis Club's courts near the Rideau River on July 31, 2017. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)
"I think the key here is introducing a diversity of sport, while maintaining tennis at the facility. But introducing other sports, so that there are really different demographics that we're tapping into and providing innovative and varied programming for all demographics."

Bridgland also said the revamped and re-named Rideau Sports Centre will include a new restaurant and patios that will be open to the public. 

Neither party would disclose the value of the deal for the lease, which is on land owned by the National Capital Commission.

Members on edge

Founded in 1912, the club has 19 outdoor tennis courts in the summer and eight hard courts open during the winter under two air domes.

Members have been on edge about the fate of the tennis club since earlier this summer, when management delayed a pair of meetings.

Marc O'Sullivan, who has been a member for almost a decade, attended a meeting for members about the sale. He's worried changes will eliminate the programs that brought tennis fans to the facility, he said.

Marc O'Sullivan is worried the sale of the Rideau Tennis Club will lead to broken friendships and a lost tennis tradition. (CBC)

"My hope is that the new owners will try to have not only have tennis courts available, but have clinics, tournaments, leagues that will provide the sort of dynamic environment for all the tennis fans that are here today," he said.

But some club members are saying this may mark the end of an era for a community with decades-old friendships, he added.

"It's a parting of ways in many instances," O'Sullivan said. "People will spread out to existing clubs according to where they live and there will be a lot of lost friendships."

Tennis 'here to stay'

The centre will be a community hub, acting as an anchor for recreational activities along the Rideau River, Bridgland said.

"This property is an under-utilized place in the heart of the city. We really want to make it a landmark of the city, open to everyone," she said.

Partnerships with leagues and tennis tournaments, such as this week's Roman Cup Memorial Tournament, may change after the facility is renovated, she added.

"As far as tournaments and existing programming, it will look different than it has for the past number of decades," Bridgland said. "Tennis is here and it's here to stay. It's not going to be shifted off the facility. I have a commitment to maintaining tennis."

One dome to be converted

The club will offer winter tennis this year under one dome. The other dome will be converted to a multi-sport facility that could be used for volleyball, basketball, indoor soccer and floor hockey.

Renovations will begin Aug. 22, and Bridgland said the RA Centre will accommodate interrupted memberships.

There will also be discounts for members who want to join the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club, she said.

The Rideau Sports Centre will hold meetings with the community in September and is expected to open in October, Bridgland said.