- by Tom Eastman
Volvo Leaves Valley After 10 Years
The Volvo International's 10-year association with the Valley came to an end last Friday when Volvo of America Senior Vice President Joseph Nicolato announced at a press conference held at the Red Jacket in North Conway that the tournament was moving to Stratton Mountain, Vermont.
Calling it one of the most difficult decisions he has ever had to make in his 26 years in business, Nicolato said he had chosen the Stratton proposal over an offer made by the city of Manchester.
Other areas in the running had included the Attitash Ski Area in Bartlett, the Eastern Slope Inn in North Conway, and the Gunstock Ski Area in Gilford.
The final decision to go out of state to Stratton was made by Nicolato despite a last minute plea from Governor John Sununu Thursday night to keep the tournament in the state of New Hampshire. Nicolato had announced at this year's tournament in August that the event would be played in New Hampshire in 1985, but he told reporters at Friday's press conference the Stratton proposal proved to be an "un-beatable offer."
The Stratton Mountain Corporation offer provides the tournament with the no-cost, turnkey facility it had been seeking from all the sites. The Stratton proposal calls for the construction of an $800,000, 11,000 seat hardcourt stadium as part of a $60-million, three-year expansion plan already under way at the southwestern Vermont resort.
Tom Meyers, press relations manager at Stratton, said the expansion includes condominium development, a 174-room condominium hotel, and a mall that will house 30 shops and three restaurants, all located at the base of the mountain. A $2 million Stratton Sports Center has already been completed, Meyers said, while a 90-unit hotel is expected to be completed in March 1985.
Home of the John Newcombe Tennis Center, Stratton has agreed to convert seven of the center's 14 clay tennis courts to a hard Decoturf surface. Volvo had sought a minimum of five Decoturf II courts and practice courts as part of its "wish list" of eight site requirements.
The courts will be identical to those used at the U.S. Open, scheduled for three weeks after the 1985 Volvo International. While the Volvo has been played on clay at the Mt. Cranmore Tennis Club Stadium for the past 10 years, and at the Mount Washington Hotel prior to that, the new court surface and an increase in prize money from $255,000 to a new total of $315,000 is expected to increase the number of top stars participating in the tournament, Nicolato said. The new playing date of August .5 will allow the Volvo to be the first tournament of the summer hard court series leading up to the U.S. Open, an enviable position which will allow the tournament to be billed as the "Window to the U.S. Open," Nicolato added.
Under the terms of the five-year arrangement signed with Stratton, the Volvo is to use a yet-to-be-built, 11,000-seat stadium free of rent. Stratton has also agreed to market the tournament in its collateral material, Nicolato said.
The move to Stratton will force the tournament to develop a new market base, drawing patrons from Connecticut, and greater New York. Stratton is located three hours from Boston and four hours from New York City, if one is traveling by automobile.
Nicolato said he narrowed his selection down to Manchester and Stratton, but in the end opted for Stratton because its resort atmosphere will allow the tournament to continue to market itself as the Wimbledon of the Woods, as it has since its beginnings at the Mount Washington Hotel.
Manchester's proximity to Boston was also viewed as a drawback. The U.S. Pro Championships held at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston two to three weeks prior to the Volvo International has attracted larger crowds than the North Conway tournament over the past few years, and often featured the same players' field. Were the tournament to have moved to Manchester, Nicolato said there was some concern that tennis fans would not be interested in the event after having seen their tennis three weeks earlier in Boston.
Stating repeatedly he was saddened and disappointed to be leaving Mt. Washington Valley after having made friends in the area with local Chamber of Commerce representatives who have worked equally hard to help the tournament over the past 10 years, Nicolato said in the end the issues of obtaining a turn-key, no-cost lease arrangement and the desire to deal only with one entity in leasing that site proved to be the factors which forced him to leave Mt. Cranmore.
Other requirements included: the ability to provide tournament sponsors and ticket patrons with the best possible food and beverage presentation, an adequate level of high quality housing, and adequate parking.
"Leaving here is like saying goodbye to family. I delayed making a decision many times in the hope that something might develop in negotiations at Mt. Cranmore, but there was no progress," said Nicolato. "I'd just like to thank everyone in the Valley for their cooperation and support over the years in helping to make the Volvo one of the top tournaments in the world."