HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state of Connecticut is planning to spend $618,000 to buy the rights to the New Haven Open women's tennis tournament and keep it from moving to North Carolina.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday that the Capital Region Development Authority will vote on purchasing the sanction for the WTA event from the United States Tennis Association at a meeting on Oct. 17. The authority's board has been actively involved in the negotiations.
"Economic development for our urban environments, and the state as a whole, is a fundamental component of the state's agenda and we view the New Haven Open as another chapter in bolstering this effort," Malloy said in a statement. "We know that Connecticut is a great state for women's sports, and this is another fantastic way to ensure that continues to be the case in 2014 and beyond."
Ben Barnes, Malloy's budget director, said the USTA had reached an agreement to sell the tournament and move it to Winston Salem, N.C., where the ATP holds a men's event during the same week in August the women play in New Haven.
Barnes said the ATP rejected the plans for a combined men's and women's tournament in North Carolina and Connecticut was given a short window to buy the WTA sanction and keep the event at the Connecticut Tennis Center, which also was built with state funds.
"In this case, we're making a relatively modest investment, given the size of the economic development return that this brings to the community," he said.
An economic impact study conducted in 2008 found that the tournament generated approximately $26 million in regional economic impact, including almost 300 jobs and $1.1 million in state tax revenue.
The tournament also announced that it has received renewals from its top five sponsors, Aetna, American Express, First Niagara, Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale University.
Tournament director Anne Worcester, who will continue in that position, said four of the deals are for three years. Negotiations on the length of Aetna's commitment are ongoing, she said.
The tournament will keep its name, Barnes said. A nonprofit or special-purpose entity likely will be created to take over the operations from Connecticut Professional Tennis, the for-profit organization which had leased the tournament's sanction from the USTA, he said.
A men's, women's or combined tournament has operated in New Haven since 1990. But the tournament has not had a title sponsor since Pilot Pen left in 2010 along with the ATP players.
Worcester and Barnes acknowledged the event has lost money in recent years. The tournament has seen a steady drop in attendance, which led officials last year to close off the upper bowl in the 13,000-seat Connecticut Tennis Center.
Just 45,796 fans attended the August event, down from 76,480 in 2010, the last year that men's players also played there, and 53,004 a year ago.
State House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, was among those critical of the deal, which does not require legislative approval.
"What do we know about running a tennis tournament?" he said. "What we do know is that the tournament has been around and run by people far better equipped than we are to run it, and has not been successful. What makes us as state government think that we can now own it and turn it around?"
Worcester has long called for the state to help fund capital improvements to the stadium, such as a permanent scoreboard and new kitchen.
Barnes said the state is open to making a further investment, though the scope of that has not been discussed.
He acknowledged this type of public ownership of a tournament, while not uncommon overseas, will be unique in the United States.
"We are working on creating a management structure under which we are given a commensurate level of control of expenses of the tournament," he said. "We are also working with our other institutional sponsors to come up with an appropriate formula for sharing some of the operating risk, so the state is not alone in carrying that."