Steamboat Springs When the tennis bubble was constructed in 1991, the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs and members of the community understood it had a lifespan.
Telsar, the company that put the bubble up more than a decade ago, initially said the inflatable structure would last about 15 years.
In an effort to be proactive, members of the Steamboat Tennis Association have begun raising funds for a new bubble. The first fund-raiser is a Feb. 15 exhibition match between David Pate and Scott Davis, winners of the 2002 35-and-over Wimbledon doubles title.
Wimbledon, held on grass courts in England, is arguably tennis' premier tournament.
"The bubble is something that has a finite life," said Carol O'Hare, chairwoman of the Facility Replacement Committee. "When it came to this event, we tried to decide what best to do with the money."
Instead of buying gold trophies for summer tournaments, the STA opted to put this money aside for the future improvements or replacement of the tennis bubble.
"It's better to be forward thinking," O'Hare said.
Though the exact date a new bubble is needed remains unknown, the inflatable, fabric structure is deteriorating faster than expected.
According to initial estimates, the bubble was expected to last until about 2007.
When it was built in 1991, the bubble was the first of its kind in a mountain town. Atlanta has a similar structure and was given the similar 15-year lifespan as the one in Steamboat, O'Hare said.
Obviously, Atlanta's climate is different than that of Steamboat. The elements -- wind, snow, ultraviolet rays, changing seasons -- have undoubtedly put strain on the bubble.
The bubble currently protects four clay courts used to 94 percent capacity during the winter.
Normally, a public facility has its courts occupied 60 percent of the time during the winter, said Jim Swiggart, director of the Tennis Center.
"We are North America's only indoor/outdoor clay court/hard court public facility," Swiggart said. "We're operating as one of the most popular public facilities in North America."
Initial funding for construction of bubble, which cost about $1.2 million to build, was taken care of by the city, the one-cent lodging tax and the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s donation of the land the current bubble sits upon. The cost of repairing or replacing the structure are unknown.
The Tennis Center facility is owned by the city of Steamboat Springs. Swiggart is a concessionaire who runs the business there.
"We've known since we built it that we would need to replace it," city Parks, Recreation and Open Space Director Chris Wilson said. Wilson likened the tennis bubble to a set of tires: There's no way to predict exactly when they will need to be replaced; they get replaced in a time frame advised by the manufacturer -- or when they blow out.
O'Hare stressed that definitive fund-raising plans aren't in place, as everything with regard to the bubble's replacement is in the very preliminary stages. It is important, however, for her committee and the STA to be looking down the road.
Joel Toy did say that instead of an inflatable structure, committee members would like to maintain a fabric structure with a rigid frame.
The local tennis community and tourists use the Tennis Center, and the number of people that go through the rotating door onto the popular clay courts has grown since 1991.
Roughly 250 children are involved in the Junior Academy that produces players who eventually form successful high school programs. More than 1,500 people are part of the local tennis community, O'Hare said.
"We are a ski town, and a hockey town, but we're also a tennis town," O'Hare said. "There's an incredible growth in the sport. It really comes to a point where you have to put together a plan. When the bubble was put in place, the tennis community was much smaller. Through the past 10 to 12 years, the community has grown tremendously."
At this point, Wilson said the city appreciates the STA's efforts to raise initial funds.
"I think the big story is that tennis users recognize the need for repair," Wilson said. "It's always great to have the huge support that we have from the user groups in this community."