It's a long way from Roland Garros and the French Open, but about 100 tennis lovers jammed the Salt Lake City Council chambers Tuesday evening to call fault on the municipality for not renewing the contract for Coach Mike's Tennis Academy.
Mike Martines has operated the tennis facility, also known as the Dee Smith Tennis Center, 1216 Wasatch Drive, for 15 years. Along the way, his supporters say, he took a decrepit city tennis park and turned it into a first-rate facility.
Martines raised about $500,000 in private funds to upgrade the club, including a bubble for wintertime play.
But the administration of Mayor Ralph Becker did not renew Martines contract for the upcoming fiscal year. Unlike the past 15 years, the city wanted one vendor to operate both the Wasatch Drive operation as well as the Liberty Park Tennis Center.
"I'm pretty sad," Martines said in an interview Tuesday. "We were forced to bid on Coach Mike's Tennis Academy and Liberty Park. We didn't want to do that."
Bill Paulos, a supporter of Coach Mike's, said Martines "took a rotten asset of the city turned it into a beautiful asset the city could be proud of."
The decision not to award the contract to Martines seems to be made in a vacuum, Paulos said.
"If there were a malpractice law for a municipality, this would be it," he said.
Martines has made selfless contributions to the citizens of Salt Lake City, Sharon McGough told the City Council.
"We really believe that if you see how many people come out for Coach Mike and how deeply we care about him, it might make a difference."
Susan Daynes works at the tennis center and said she couldn't believe the city did not award the contract to Martines.
"I've watched him build this up with his bare hands. And for the city to take this away from him is ludicrous," she said in an interview.
Before the public hearing, Councilman Charlie Luke, who represents the area around the tennis academy, explained that the council does not have control over contracts at city parks.
"I have only heard positive things about Coach Mike's," he said. "But the council doesn't get involved in specific projects, so we're out of the loop on this."
A spokesman for the mayor said the city must seek "maximum public benefit" when contracting for municipal services.
"The important factor in the 'Request for Proposal' process is to ensure a fair process that leads to the best public benefit," said Art Raymond.
But he noted that although another vendor has been selected, the process is not over. Until a contract is signed, nothing is final, Raymond said.
Most in attendance, like 90-year-old tennis player Barbara West, told the council they couldn't understand the decision not to award the contract to Coach Mike, who she said has not only built a facility but an entire community of tennis players.
"Why is a well-managed, fiscally sound program being changed?" she asked. "Why?"
Council finds more needs, but not more cash
In other matters Tuesday, the council wrestled with Mayor Ralph Becker's proposed $213 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Last week, the council identified $6.5 million in needed additional spending on infrastructure, most notably street maintenance. That would require a property tax hike of about $50 a year on a house valued at $250,000.
On Tuesday, the council identified another $13 million in needed infrastructure upgrades. The looming infrastructure costs have left the council grasping for solutions.
Councilman Stan Penfold suggested the possibility of issuing bonds to cover tens of millions in unmet needs.
But Councilman Carlton Christensen warned that spending on that level would require "a lot more public buy-in."
The council has until June 22 to adopt a budget.