"There's a Field Of Dreams aspect to all this," says Mark Ein as we stand courtside at the nearly-completed Kastle's Stadium At The Wharf. The team is two weeks away from their home opener and owner Mark Ein and COO Jennifer Spatz-Martin are overseeing the final touches of the newest home for the Washington Kastles—DC's chapter of the World Team Tennis league. As Curbed kicks off Outdoors Week we thought there's no better place to start than the city's only professional sports venue that has waterfront views.
"There's probably two to three hundred people working to make this happen," says Ein. "On any given week during our season there's at least a hundred different hands touching this." As we talk the crew responsible for laying the court is hard at work pouring the first layer. A gooey tar-like substance gradually makes its way across the gravelly foundation; after this will come more layers, then sealer, then water pitching to make sure the surface is level, and then finally the court will be painted the tell-tale colors of green, brown, blue and red. At the old location at H and 11th NW the stadium would be taken down at the end of each season, but this one will stay up for at least two years, says Spatz-Martin. When not in use as a tennis court the venue will host concerts and other entertainment events.
The vary nature of World Team Tennis is that it is not your typical tennis game. Ein describes it as 'tennis in a hockey or basketball atmosphere'. To start with there are cheerleaders, loud music, people on stilts revving up the crowd, and if a tennis ball makes it into the stands the fan who catches it gets to keep it (don't even think about that happening at a Grand Slam). With all that in mind, the developers set out to create a stadium that could keep a crowd of just under three thousand people feel like they were at a summer block party. "Rather than build a bigger stadium, which we could have done, we decided to keep it small. It's much more important to us to have a full crowd every night. The biggest change is that we added thirty percent more table seating since those always sell out. As of now only ten of the one hundred and fifty are left and we have a waiting list every year." This stadium also tried to allow for better views of the water by making some of the seating higher up. But, even the last row is still close enough to tell if an umpire made the right call, Ein points out.
The stadium is all part of a billion dollar redevelopment plan for the Waterfront that began when Mayor Fenty took a wrecking ball to the prior building sitting in this spot, Hogates Restaurant. Besides having more of a neighborhood feel, this location is slightly closer to the Kastles' rain site, Hains Point, visible in the above picture as the dome on the other side of the river. It also allowed the team to build an underground parking garage to accommodate the crowds.
Not only is this new stadium a sign of progress for the Waterfront, but it is the next step in the evolution of the Kastles. "I had no idea about World Team Tennis before this” says Ein. “But I met Billie Jean King, founder of World Team Tennis, who said she had been trying to bring a team to D.C. for years but hadn't met the right owner. Eventually, I got into this and every year it blows me away.”
With an increase in television coverage on both Comcast Sportsnet and the Tennis Channel, Ein says the growth has been happening at breakneck speed. “Our real breakthrough was when some of our matches with no big stars sold as well as the matches that had big names—such as Serena and Venus Williams, and John McEnroe. People come to me after a match and say this is the biggest melting pot. It is half-filled with hardcore tennis fans and half-filled with DC people who just want a great night out. Truly nothing is more important to me than that."
Photos from Washington Kastles and Curbed DC