Join our family of curious Kansas Citians

Discover unheard stories about Kansas City, every Thursday.

Thank you for subscribing!

Check your inbox, you should see something from us.

Sign Me Up
Hit enter to search or ESC to close

Plaza Tennis Center Under New Management Amid Country Club Plaza Uncertainty Regional USTA Takes Over After Genesis Health Clubs Default

Share this story
Above image credit: The Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners has voted to replace Genesis Health Clubs with the United States Tennis Association-Missouri Valley to manage the Plaza Tennis Center. (Dominick Williams | Flatland)
Sponsor Message Become a Flatland sponsor
6 minute read

A default by fitness giant Genesis Health Clubs is offering new hope for fans of the nearly 100-year-old Plaza Tennis Center

Genesis failed to pay the city in 2023, under a lease agreement to operate the public courts for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. 

The 14 lighted outdoor courts, located on the eastern edge of the Country Club Plaza, have long been the subject of speculation, primarily because the site is also viewed as prime real estate by developers. 

The Plaza Tennis Center will be operated at least through the end of the year by the United States Tennis Association-Missouri Valley (USTA), through an agreement finalized last week by the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners. 

“We are certainly dedicated to at least this year, making sure we get it up and running,” said Mary Buschmann, CEO and executive director of the USTA-Missouri Valley. “And during this time, then we will try and formulate a long-term plan.” 

The parks board’s decision at least temporarily stifles, but certainly won’t end, ongoing concern about the Plaza Tennis Center’s future. 

Speculation about the future of the tennis facility has soared in recent months with news that a Dallas-based group plans to buy the historic but struggling Plaza shopping and business district that continues to lose tenants. 

Just across the street from the Plaza Tennis Center, fast fashion retailer Forever 21 is conducting a closing sale, part of the fallout from its bankruptcy filing in 2019 and later sale to a group that buys brands. 

The owners of Highland Park Village, a tony Dallas shopping district, are continuing to pursue the purchase of the Country Club Plaza. Highland Park bears a strong resemblance to the Plaza, with Mediterranean-inspired architecture and luxury stores in an open-air setting. 

The pending sale has generated increased buzz about whether new ownership can revitalize the Plaza, fill its many vacant storefronts and address community fears of crime, most of which are related to thefts from cars. 

A westerly view of the Country Club Plaza from the Plaza Tennis Center.
The Plaza Tennis Center site has been mentioned as a possible location for redevelopment at the eastern edge of the Country Club Plaza. (Dominick Williams | Flatland)

The Plaza Tennis Center’s courts and clubhouse are on city parkland, considered part of Mill Creek Park, a more than 11-acre area popular for its fitness trail, featuring exercise equipment placed alongside the pathway, the iconic fountain with four horsemen and large grassy portions that people use for picnics and pick-up soccer games.  

The southern edge of the park has also become known as a popular location for protests, as the area abuts busy 47th Street. 

The Plaza Tennis Center is to the south, and for years has been eyed by some as prime real estate, potentially a lucrative site for future condominiums or other development.  

Kansas City Manager Brian Platt even convened a meeting of interested parties in 2022, with an eye toward increasing density around the Plaza and adding more amenities.

News reports of that meeting set off alarm bells for those who want to preserve the courts as a city-owned option for tennis. 

People flooded social media, often posting about learning to play tennis on the courts in their youth, or as a less pricey option than local membership clubs. 

Getting the Plaza courts ready and open for the 2024 season seems to have gotten the upper hand – at least for now. 

Plaza Tennis Center Improvements 

Scott Hanover, executive director of the Stephanie Waterman Foundation, is focused on the Plaza courts’ value as a community asset and believes the city’s arrangement with USTA is a positive step. 

The Waterman Foundation is a local nonprofit that provides tennis instruction and competition opportunities to underserved local youth. 

“We definitely will want to partner with USTA and talk about how the Waterman Foundation can maybe use the courts a little bit more and bring more kids down there for activities,” Hanover said. 

At their last meeting, parks and recreation commissioners agreed to have the United States Tennis Association-Missouri Valley (USTA) operate the Plaza Tennis Center from Feb. 27 to Dec. 31, 2024. Under the agreement, USTA will share 40% of the net profits generated at the Plaza Tennis Center. 

The agreement is a huge relief for the upcoming tennis season among local schools and universities, which contract with the city to practice and hold tournaments on the courts, along with recreation leagues and other public uses. 

The city has also approved contracts to have the courts resurfaced, said Buschmann, who directs the five-state region for the USTA. 

The challenge now is timing. The resurfacing of tennis courts depends on the weather.  

“But the fact that they’re resurfacing really lends itself for a positive moving forward,” Buschmann said, noting the substantial investment of $500,000.  

Rockhurst High School, St. Teresa’s Academy, Rockhurst University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City all use the Plaza courts at 4747 Mill Creek Pkwy., Buschmann said. 

Because the Plaza Tennis Courts are part of the city’s vast holdings of parkland, any potential sale of the site would have to be approved by voters, and then put out for bids. 

Another option, a decades-long land lease to a developer, has also been suggested by some. A lease would negate the need for a citywide public vote. 

The Kansas City Department of Parks and Recreation has long contracted out the operation of the tennis center, with Genesis holding the most recent agreement.  

The city issued this statement after approving the new contract with USTA: “Genesis Health Club did not make any lease payments for the year of 2023. The Parks Department decided it would be a great opportunity to work with USTA. We successfully reached an agreement for this year. Our courts are in the process of getting a renovation. We have finalized a Purchase Order to have all the courts repaired for the new season.” 

Rodney Steven II is the owner/president of Genesis Health Clubs, which is based in Wichita, Kansas. Genesis has 64 locations in multiple states, according to its website. Genesis has operated clubs in the Kansas City area since 2015. 

Officials with Genesis declined to comment. 

Growing Tennis and Public Awareness 

The Plaza tennis courts are nearly as old as the Country Club Plaza, which celebrated its centennial last year. 

They were built in 1928, first as clay courts, which would have been the common type for that era.  

Through the years, the courts have undergone remodeling, such as the addition of the clubhouse. 

The city of Kansas City has more than 90 tennis courts in its portfolio. But the Plaza tennis courts are the only ones with a clubhouse, making it more efficient for holding tournaments and having staff on hand to help players. 

The Plaza Tennis Center clubhouse.
The Plaza Tennis Center has a clubhouse, offering on-site facilities and staff to help host tournaments and assist members of the public. (Mary Sanchez | Flatland)

In recent years, the condition of the courts meant that it wasn’t suitable for collegiate tournament play. 

Buschmann, of the USTA, said that she’d like to build on the historic nature of the courts and raise the awareness that they are city-owned, not private. 

Buschmann said she would like to work with the city, such as through Visit KC and others concerned about the Plaza’s future. 

“We want to make sure that everyone who is walking around the Country Club Plaza is aware that they can walk in and they can play tennis,” she said. “We want to show that it is very much a public facility.” 

Doing so would be in keeping with the mission of the USTA, which is to increase the inclusivity of the sport and create opportunities for greater access to play. 

But first, she’s working on getting the courts open for the schools contracting to use the courts.  

The courts will also continue to host local teams of Impact Team Tennis, formerly known as World Team Tennis. It’s a form of expedited coed play involving doubles and singles courts. 

Tennis is growing, gaining about 250,000 new players (a 1% uptick) in 2023, according to the recently released 2024 U.S. Tennis Participation Report. 

Nearly 24 million people aged 6 and over played tennis at least once in 2023. And nearly 12 million are considered “core players,” playing 10 or more times in the past year. 

The sport saw large numbers of people trying it during the COVID pandemic. Those large gains have tapered off, but the sport does continue to see growth and increasing racial and ethnic diversity, the report said. 

The USTA emphasizes community inclusion, along with the health and wellness of communities. 

The plan is to build on recent increased interest in tennis by extending the Plaza’s offerings to include lessons and popular activities like cardio tennis, which combines tennis strokes and play in fast-paced drills. 

The courts will also be available to be booked for a nominal fee, when compared to the cost at many local clubs that require membership. 

“I’m happy that we can unite the tennis community,” Buschmann said. “We’ll come together and make it happen.”  

Mary Sanchez is senior reporter for Kansas City PBS.

Like what you are reading?

Discover more unheard stories about Kansas City, every Thursday.

Thank you for subscribing!

Check your inbox, you should see something from us.

Enter Email
Flatland relies on reader support to deliver in-depth coverage of the stories that are important to this region. Do your part and make your crucial donation now. Support Local Journalism
Sponsor Message Become a Flatland sponsor

Ready to read next

If Voters OK Ballpark Sales Tax, Royals Will Ask KC and Missouri for More

The Royals are pitching a sales tax to help pay for a new stadium, but they’ll need another $700 million to make the stadium happen. That’s where Kansas City and Missouri come in.

Read Story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *