For the second year in a row, the city of Atlanta is leaning toward awarding a new contract for management of its five tennis centers, including the ones at two Buckhead parks, to a company with less experience than the current one. And as such, the company that has overseen those centers since 2010 fears it will unfairly lose out on the deal.
Universal Tennis Management (also known as Universal Tennis Academy), which has managed the city’s tennis centers since 2010, had its nine-year contract with the city expire May 11, 2019. But it got a 90-day extension to Aug. 11, 2019 while undergoing the protest/appeal process with the city in an effort to win the new contract, which it ultimately won.
Universal manages the Chastain Park, Bitsy Grant, Sharon Lester, Washington Park and Joseph McGhee tennis centers at Chastain, Atlanta Memorial, Piedmont, Washington and White parks, respectively. It also manages the tennis centers at Blackburn Park, Briarlake Baptist Church and Georgia State University’s Clarkston and Dunwoody campuses, all in DeKalb County, and the James Creek Tennis Center in Cumming.
Tim Noonan co-founded Universal with David Drew and today is one of six partners with the company. He said Agape Tennis Academy, which is based at the DeKalb Tennis Center, which it manages, also manages the three Macon-Bibb County Tennis Centers. It was recommended by the city of Atlanta’s review board in the procurement department for the new contract.
But following a protest/appeal process in which residents, including players, installed “Keep UTA” signs in their yards and started two change.org online petitions signed by 3,524 adults and 624 students, respectively, requesting the Atlanta City Council keep Universal as the city’s center management provider, the company won the right to manage the centers again.
Universal was awarded a one-year contract, which expired Aug. 11. On that date, the city temporarily started managing the centers, and it will continue to do so until a new contract is signed. The new contract lasts for nine years, with optional renewals coming after the first five years and then again two years later.
Noonan said he was surprised Agape was favored by the city following another request for proposals (RFP) process in which Agape and Universal were the only companies to bid on managing the city’s centers, given the success the latter company has had.
“We are primarily baffled. Anger is a close second,” he said. “Taking the city of Atlanta sites from the verge of closing to being thriving centers has been (Universal’s) greatest achievement. We sacrificed greatly the first two years there, taking substantial pay cuts because we believed that we were doing the right thing.
“We have grown participation at the centers for 11 straight years! How does somebody get thrown out with that track record?”
When asked what the players’ reaction to the news was, Noonan said they were similarly surprised.
“They have made their feelings known but are not sure they are being heard,” he said. “They have said, ‘Here is what we want,’ and the city has come back with, ‘We know what you want, but you’re not going to get it.’”
Amy Pazahanick, Agape’s owner, did not return a phone message seeking comment on the latest contract renewal. But in an interview last year, she said she believes the company offers excellent programming.
“I think that our programs really represent programming for every different type of person in the community more overall,” she said. “We have programs for disadvantaged children and youth, special-needs groups, junior players and adults. We have programs more evenly dispersed.
“I also feel strongly we’re the most progressive group. We’re young, motivated, innovated. We have more advanced systems and programming to run things more efficiently. We’re more modern with social media and marketing. More progressive and young. We align more with the city of Atlanta and its vision.”
According to its website, Agape was founded in 2012 and has won three awards: being voted the Community Outreach Organization of the Year and being named 10-and-Under Program of the Year and Director of the Year by the Georgia Professional Tennis Association.
As part of his appeal/protest, Noonan said he soon hopes to get a copy of the documents the city used to score both Agape and Universal in its process to award the contract.
“More than anything we (Universal and its city of Atlanta patrons) all want answers,” he said. “All the tangible business metrics favor (Universal) by a wide margin. The public support is squarely behind us as well. The scoring on the second RFP was amended to make our experience and track record appropriately weighted. If we run this scenario 100 times, we get the same result 100 times. There must be a laundry list of intangibles in play, and we just want to see that laundry list.”
He also hopes residents speak out in favor of Universal at the council’s committee and regular meetings when the contract will go up for a vote. Noonan said the contract could go before the community development/human services or finance/executive committee in the near future but doesn’t know when.
“If our supporters can convince enough city council (members) that this decision is not good for the city of Atlanta, they won’t approve it,” he said.