Former Fourth District Supervisor Roy Wilson saw the tennis tournament as vital asset

It was 1999 and the Coachella Valley’s tennis tournament had outgrown its tennis facilities and stadium located on hotel grounds in the city of Indian Wells.

Raymond Moore and Charlie Pasarell, the tournament’s ownership team, were being courted by Las Vegas. The tournament was in danger of moving to bigger and better facilities in Vegas.

Enter former Fourth District Supervisor Roy Wilson with a proposal to build the stadium and courts on county land near the corner of Washington Street and Fred Waring Drive. That land was an eyesore and had become an illegal dumping ground for tires, water heaters, appliances, and construction debris.

Wilson promised tournament organizers and project manager Richard Oliphant, the former Indian Wells Mayor, the county would move heaven and earth to get the stadium built.

This was a major undertaking. Washington Street had to be widened from Interstate 10 to Highway 111. Imperial Irrigation District would need to realign power poles and lines along Washington Street. Coachella Valley Water District had to vastly improve water and sewer and wanted the channel lines to the south of the project. All these activities had to be done harmoniously. Not an easy task for any project.

For the county, Wilson had Brad Hudson as his ramrod. Hudson would push the project through the county’s new Fast Track permitting process. At that time the county also required, in accordance with laws and regulations, an environmental assessment. Hudson and Wilson pushed the assessment along and the project received a 5-0 vote to move forward.

The stadium, outlying courts and facilities broke ground and construction moved at a brisk pace.

Wilson was at the site often. He saw the tournament as a vital asset to the valley and county as a whole. He had the vision to see that, by assisting the developer and slashing red tape, the county and valley would see increased property values, massive sales tax infusions, international exposure from television and radio coverage, more guests for hotels and restaurants, and time for guests to enjoy a hike or a round of golf.

Wilson and the county team hoped the tournament would be a great success. It has been a tremendous boost to the regional economy. It far exceeded expectations for tennis and the good that comes from having a word-class tennis tournament in the community.

The stadium opened on time and its first tournament was a great success. Sell-out crowds flocked to the stadium, filled valley hotels, sales taxes and transient occupancy taxes were record-generating. It was a great start and the tournament set records through ownership changes and major sponsorship changes. The tournament was the worldwide success and new owner Larry Ellison of Rancho Mirage, dumped millions into the stadium for expansion and refreshing the facilities.

In 2019 the tournament was postponed and then cancelled. This was done out an abundance of caution for player and public safety. Covid-19 was working its way across the USA and the world so the tough call was made to cancel the event.

The tournament is a major employer during the ramp up, throughout the events, and after the shutdown. Those temporary jobs mean a great deal to those who look forward to staffing a great event. From parking attendants, suite staff, admissions, customer service, court staffers, and volunteers, many benefit directly from this signature event. The indirect impacts on the region’s economy are phenomenal.

Today, tournament organizers are considering how to handle the COVID-19 risks for players, employees, and guests for a second straight year.

Will the tournament go on? Is it possible to play the tournament and do so safely? The National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and college sports have all figured out how to bring back sports and do so safely. For the most part that means fans are not permitted or if they are permitted in a stadium the crowd size is drastically reduced.

With just 120 days to go before the tournament takes place organizers have some tough calls. While it is clearly in the best interest of the regional economy for this tournament to press on, organizers and tennis players will have to work together on a decision and direction that is sensible and safe.

We hope the tournament can go on, with safety at the top of the list — for all involved. Seeing this event back on the air and promoting the Coachella Valley as a world-class destination is crucial to the sport and the economy.

Image Sources

  • Indian Wells Tennis Garden: Shutterstock