Paul Rolly: Salt Lake residents angry over tennis pro's ouster
If Salt Lake City officials think dog owners are a pain when they get upset by proposed leash-in-park ordinances, wait until they get a load of the tennis players.
A growing burn is emerging among the tennis-playing community in Salt Lake City after word got out that Mike Martines, who has operated Coach Mike's Tennis Academy under contract with the city for 15 years, is on his way out.
Martines received word from a bid committee in the city's Public Services Department that his proposal for a renewed contract was not chosen among bidders and that someone else will get the contract. That has led to outrage among users of the facility, located above Foothill Drive near Bonneville Golf Course and Hogle Zoo.
The coach has support among some of the city's most prominent business and community leaders whose children and grandchildren have taken lessons at the academy, including banking magnate Spencer Eccles.
The latest word from the tennis community is that the City Council meeting Tuesday will be flooded with supporters of Martines expecting to be heard during the meeting's public comment period.
City Councilman Charlie Luke said he has been inundated with complaints from constituents as word of the ouster gets around.
"People are upset," Luke said. While the decision is from the administration and not the council, Luke said he expects a number of angry tennis players at the meeting wanting their council representatives to do something.
Martines, a former high school and college tennis star in the 1960s and early '70s, took over the unused and weed-infested tennis facility 15 years ago. He cleaned it up, added courts, spent some of his own money to upgrade the facility and has operated a successful tennis operation ever since.
He has raised about $500,000 from private sources to make improvements, including adding a $300,000 bubble to accommodate winter tennis, and the city has kicked in another half million over the years to create what tennis enthusiasts call a first-rate facility.
The academy currently has 10 courts that are in use all day, either because of lessons or players renting court time.
Martines estimates 60 to 80 adults and 60 to 100 kids use the facility each day in the summer. He employs 25 people in the summer and 18 in the winter.
Martines was told, however, to submit a bid for a continued contract, in which the private contractor chosen to operate the city-owned facility pays rent to the city. The city wants a concessionaire to operate Coach Mike's Tennis Academy and the tennis courts at Liberty Park.
He was informed that the bid committee, made up of seven city bureaucrats, chose someone else. He has filed a protest of that decision and, according to Art Raymond, Mayor Ralph Becker's communications director, the contract has not been finalized with the preliminary winner, so things could change.
"[City officials] don't realize what this will do to the tennis world," said Melanie Smith, a patron who filed a formal complaint with the city over the decision.