The Alaska Club North, a 43,000-square-foot health and tennis facility in East Anchorage, will close its doors for good on Monday. After four years on the market, the property has been sold. Alaska Club officials would not identify the new owners or discuss how the property will be used in the future, but the closing appears to harm the Anchorage tennis community -- especially the annual Alaska high school tennis championships.
The Alaska Club North has five of Anchorage's nine indoor tennis courts, used by adults, kids, and high school teams, especially after September, when rain and colder temperatures make playing tennis outdoors difficult.
"The second half of the season is played indoors, and now we are going from nine courts to four, and that's going to be tough," said Allen Clendaniel, president of the Alaska Tennis Association.
Along with the Alaska Club East, which has the other four courts, the North club has hosted the Anchorage high school tennis tournament each November for years. In the past, all 16 Alaska high schools with tennis teams participated without players first having to qualify in regional or conference play. The closing of the Alaska Club North will force the Alaska School Activities Association to cut the state high school tournament in half, from brackets of 16 to eight, according to ASAA state championships director Isaiah Vreeman.
Anchorage tennis schools will get four berths in the tournament, Fairbanks will get two, and Kodiak and Juneau will get one each, Vreeman said.
The fate of the Alaska Club's North location has long been in doubt; Alaska Club officials described years of declining use of the Bragaw Road facility. But its pending sale was one of the main reasons the Alaska Tennis Association secured funding from Juneau last year to build a public indoor tennis facility -- funding that became mired in a very public fight over how the money should be used.
Disagreements about the proposal to build a public six-court, indoor facility in West Anchorage began in November 2013. That's when the Anchorage Assembly began months of debate over the $10.5 million that the city received from the Alaska Legislature earlier that year. The money was put in the state capital budget at the request of Rep. Lindsey Holmes, with the support of Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. The project was initiated by the Alaska Tennis Association. But Anchorage Assembly members and some legislators -- notably Senate Finance co-chair Bill Stoltze -- claimed the indoor tennis court request was sneaked into a $37 million request for money to repair and upgrade other Anchorage facilities, such as the Sullivan Arena.
In April 2014, the Alaska Legislature revoked the project's funding. The Alaska Tennis Association said it would "take a break" from trying to secure public funding for indoor tennis courts in Anchorage, but after the sale of the Alaska Club North, that break may be over.
"It is certainly a bigger priority for us now," Clendaniel said.
In a letter to Alaska Club North tennis members, Alaska Club President Robert Brewster wrote that the club planned to improve its East facility, including an upgraded viewing area, a lounge and new lighting. Brewster said he believes the remaining four indoor courts at the East facility will suffice for Anchorage tennis players. Brewster said that total usage of the North club's indoor tennis courts was down to about 20 percent of maximum.
"Utilization has been declining there for the last 10 years, and it has reached the point that it made it difficult to justify continuing to operate that location," Brewster said.
Brewster said he doesn't believe the demand for tennis in Anchorage would warrant increasing the number of courts at the East facility.
But the closure of the largest indoor tennis facility in the state is a bitter pill for tennis supporters to swallow. Despite Brewster's claim that the North facility was underutilized, tennis association members said its closure, coupled with the disintegration of the public court plan, will limit the sport's reach and growth in Alaska.
"The reason why we went down to Juneau and worked so hard on the public facility is because we saw this coming," Clendaniel said. "And so it's frustrating that the public facility became so controversial and was defunded."
Reach Sean Doogan at email@example.com.
By SEAN DOOGAN