PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. — Although perhaps not well known to some outside of the Port Washington community, the town’s relationship with tennis is historic.
The Port Washington Tennis Academy (PWTA) opened in 1966 and has been owned and operated by the Zausner family for more than 50 years. In addition to providing lessons and hosting tournaments for thousands of kids and adults, the facility, in the 1970s, was where the games of several American tennis stars, including John and Patrick McEnroe, were honed.
“I turned 60 this year, so Port was a part of my childhood and teenage years as a wannabe player from New York City, Claude Okin, CEO of Sportime Clubs, told us. “I wish I had been able to experience it then, instead of just losing tennis matches to those who did! When I think about Port, I think about John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis, Mary Carillo, and, a little, later Patrick McEnroe, and the many other really exceptional players who grew up playing there. Port truly is a piece of tennis history, and even more of Long Island and New York history.”
On July 11, a major change took place at the tennis facility at 100 Harbor Road. That’s when Sportime Clubs LLC began operating PWTA, on behalf of the current non-profit, 501(c)3, owner, pursuant to a management agreement that will allow Sportime to provide top quality programs serving juniors and adults of all ages and levels, as well as court-time, tournaments and more. This management agreement will remain in place until the facility is sold to a new owner later this year, at which time Sportime will become the long-term tenant and the facility will become Sportime Port Washington.
“It is an honor to have been chosen to operate such an important and iconic facility, and I and my colleagues at Sportime feel humbled by the opportunity,” Okin told us. “I do like to think that we earned this opportunity based on our almost 30-year track record of operating excellent clubs, great programs for juniors and adults, and, of course, and perhaps most importantly, based on the scale and success of Sportime’s John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA).”
“Our goal is to relaunch the Port Washington site in a manner that makes it as vital and relevant as it was 50 years ago, when it helped to create that first, great generation of American players from New York, but also to make sure that it is filled with happy players and families from Port Washington and its surrounding communities for generations to come,” Okin continued. “We will do all we can to honor the hard work and commitment of the Zausner family.”
This change also means that the McEnroe family will return to Port Washington tennis once again at some point in the near future.
“Starting in September, Sportime is operating most of our trademarked programs for adults and juniors at Port Washington, with the exception of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA),” relayed Okin. “We will have great coaches there and we will have a program for every player at every level, plus private and group instruction, open and seasonal court-time, tournaments and events. When the renovations to the facility are complete in the fall of 2023, Sportime Port Washington will become a JMTA site, joining Sportime Syosset on Long Island, with the goal of producing decades of college scholarship recipients and, with a little luck, some future pros.”
The Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that was formed in 2012 to help fund the charitable mission to which John McEnroe and Okin jointly committed when they started JMTA in 2010.
“That mission is to remove the economic and social barriers to success through the sport of tennis and to serve a diverse community of players and families. We introduce tennis to thousands of kids each year; kids who would never get the chance to learn and play otherwise,” stated Okin. “For JMTP’s most talented and dedicated young athletes, JMTP, in partnership with JMTA, provides a pathway to success through competitive tennis that leads to college scholarships, careers in the industry, and, for a few, professional tennis careers.
“Until now, JMTP’s work has been almost entirely focused in New York City, particularly in the under-resourced communities near Sportime/JMTA’s flagship location on Randall’s Island,” Okin continued. “But, along with the pending arrival of JMTA to Port Washington, we also hope to have some exciting news to share about expanding JMTP’s work on Long Island in a big way. More to come on that, but we truly plan to honor the legacy of PWTA with our charitable endeavors on Long Island, and especially at Port, in the years to come.”
Port Washington residents can expect John McEnroe himself to make his triumphant return in the near future.
“I know that John and Patrick are both very excited about Sportime’s long-term operation of the Port Washington facility, and about JMTA coming to Port. We are definitely looking forward to having a big ‘Johnny Mac is Back’ event when the time comes,” Okin revealed. “John speaks frequently about his time at Port, and especially about his coaches when he was there, including the famed Aussie, Harry Hopman, who directed PWTA when John was there, and whom John thinks of as a role model in that regard. Port was a big part of the McEnroe brothers’ early lives, as chronicled in at least two of John’s books.”
Created in 1994 with the acquisition of four indoor tennis clubs in Bethpage, Kings Park, Lynbrook and Massapequa, Sportime currently owns and operates 14 clubs/sites including Quogue and Amagansett in the Hamptons, Syosset and Roslyn on the North Shore of Long Island, Hempstead Lake State Park, on the South Shore of Long Island, Eastchester and Mamaroneck in Lower Westchester, Randall’s Island in New York City, and Schenectady. Sportime owns or controls more than 80 acres of property and in excess of 800,000 square feet of covered space. Sportime serves approximately 30,000 members, visitors and program participants annually and employs between 500 and 900 full and part-time team members, depending on the time of year.
More ‘Aces’ to Come
Sportime and the JMTP will not be the only additions to the Port Washington tennis community. Hornig Capital Partners (HCP) is in contract to purchase the PWTA. Daren Hornig, managing partner of HCP, told Port Washington Living that the transaction is expected to close by the end of 2022.
Based in New York, HCP is a privately held real estate development firm specializing in value-added investments in the New York metropolitan area and choice markets throughout the United States. HCP invests in stabilized assets for long-term property appreciation and to effectively recapitalize existing properties with owners to maximize returns.
In deciding to purchase the PWTA property, Hornig cited its iconic history. He added that, as a Long Island native who grew up in Bellmore and who now resides in Roslyn, he has long known about the location.
Changing global habits also sparked an interest. “Tennis is internet proof and has also benefited from the pandemic because it was a safe and healthy activity for many during COVID. And if you want to play tennis, you need to go to a facility,” Hornig asserted. “A majority of my friends work from home, or on flexible schedules now, which gives Long Islanders an extra three hours a day, not commuting to New York City. And those folks will continue to seek outlets for social and recreational experiences near where they live – they will want to get out of the house. Tennis has provided and will continue to provide a great, lifelong activity for the whole family.”
The Zausner family did an incredible job with PWTA for 56 years, Hornig stressed. However, a tennis facility of that age now requires significant capital reinvestment and maintenance. These needs are being addressed as part of the acquisition and Sportime lease. Upon the transaction closing, HCP and Sportime will spend more than $7 million to substantially renovate the facility, to address both deferred maintenance and modernization.
“We will redo the locker rooms, add modern HVAC systems to all court buildings to address historic humidity issues and to keep the courts warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Port will be a 12-month-a-year facility,” Hornig revealed. “The common areas will have updated aesthetics. The courts will be upgraded and will be resurfaced on a routine basis. Most of the roofs will be replaced, as will all tennis court interiors, and new LED lighting will be added. Port Washington will be one of the best tennis facilities on Long Island for the next 50 years. The overall layout will stay the same, as it is a beautiful, iconic asset,” Hornig noted.
Sportime is perfect partner to operate HCP’s new asset, Hornig added. “Sportime is the best tennis center operator and academy operator in the United States. They hire and train the best coaches and they run the best instructional and competitive programs for adults and juniors,” Hornig relayed. “I think we are bringing the perfect combination of a needed physical upgrade, and a significant management upgrade. People know Sportime and will know that this deal is a commitment to a long future of excellent tennis in Port Washington.”
Not in a ‘Pickle’
Not only does PWTA have a great history in tennis, said Hornig, it also offers the aforementioned pickleball, reportedly founded in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Wash. Often described as a cross between tennis and ping pong, pickleball involves either two or four players using paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a 36-inch-high net.
“Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in North America, and possibly in the world, and has already been played actively on the hard courts at Port Washington for several years,” explained Okin. “We will be continuing to offer pickleball court-time, instruction, programming and competitions at Sportime Port Washington.”
“It is a great time for all racket sports and we are really excited about it,” added Hornig.
Above all, Hornig is excited about what the revitalized PWTA can bring to Port Washington as HCP’s managing partner spends a lot of time here.
“Port is a great family community. Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte is phenomenal, along with the rest of Port’s leadership, and I like to think that this purchase is also about giving back to the community,” Hornig concluded. “Sportime and I wanted to keep the facility open for racket sports for another half a century, and we are really excited about making an investment in the community. Residents will not need to travel to play tennis. They can do it right on Harbor Road.”
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