On Monday, just south of the Pit, a shovel will break some dirt and Albuquerque’s next tennis venture will begin.
Construction will begin on the University of New Mexico’s new facility, the McKinnon Family Tennis Center, featuring six sunken stadium courts, with TV-quality lights (donated by the city) and a large electronic scoreboard, with individual scoreboards for each court.
UNM hopes the facility, which is expected to be ready by late spring of 2014, will be a lift for the Lobo men’s and women’s tennis programs and an economic boost for the city.
The McKinnon Center, which will seat about 1,000 fans, comes courtesy of a $1.2 million donation that is part of a $7.5 million gift to UNM that Ian and Sonnet McKinnon made in 2011. Another $500,000 was raised privately for the project. The McKinnons also contributed $300,000 to an endowed scholarship in the name of Loren Dils, a former director of the Lobo Tennis Club and an ex-UNM assistant tennis coach, who has been diagnosed with ALS.
Among the witnesses to this groundbreaking will be Tim Cass, UNM’s deputy athletic director.
Cass has deep ties to the sport, having served UNM both as head tennis coach and as an All-American player.
“On a personal note, it’s exciting,” Cass said. “But more specifically, hopefully it is exciting for our community, for our current team and for the university.”
Alan Dils, who has been UNM’s head coach since 1996 and was Cass’ assistant before that, has good reason to be excited.
“It makes a lot of difference to us in the type of tournaments we can host” Dils said. “It gives us a lot more visibility on the recruiting end, in teams coming to play us. It augments all of our existing facilities.”
But it’s not just for UNM.
“It should allow us to bring in junior tournaments, adult tournaments,” Dils said. “We have the ColemanVision (women’s professional tournament) here this week. We would like to have a men’s counterpart to that.”
Dils said the goal is to have the UNM facility host events “30-plus weekends a year.”
Cass said UNM’s current Linda Estes Tennis Complex is not able to host even a Mountain West Conference tournament. The Estes complex has seven outdoor and six indoor courts. The addition of the stadium courts would expand the possibilities.
“Among our goals would be to hold a conference tournament, future NCAA regional events,” Cass said.
He said the UNM complex, coupled with the nearby Jerry Cline Tennis Facility, could hold tournaments featuring 500 to 600 participants from the region and beyond, all looking for places to stay and eat.
“It could be an economic engine for the city,” Cass said. “That’s good for everybody. It’s good for tennis, good for the university.”
The current facility, which also houses the Lobo Tennis Club, has been the site of various clinics and charity events and has been honored by the Southwest Tennis Association. It is home to the Lobo Tennis Performance Academy, a developmental program for young players.
The Estes complex features the Randy Briggs Indoor Tennis Dome – at 40 feet tall, 196 feet long and 128 feet wide – the widest indoor tennis bubble in the world. It seats nearly 1,000 fans. Next to it is the First State Bank Tennis Dome (40 feet tall, 180 feet long, with a seating capacity of 750).
The facility hosted the 1983 NCAA women’s championships, won by Southern California.
The McKinnon Center will be across the street from the current complex, which is near University Stadium. It will be just south of the Pit, next to the softball and baseball fields.
The McKinnons grew up in Albuquerque. Alan and Loren Dils, who both graduated from Belen High School, played prep and junior tennis against Ian, a graduate of Albuquerque Academy. McKinnon is a managing partner at Ziff Brothers Investments in New York City.