In a 2015 interview, Laurence Carroll Leeds Jr. told New York Tennis Magazine that his son “loved teaching the sport, especially to young players.” Commenting on the launch of the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning, the Chairman of Buckingham Capital Management, said "As a place where children of all backgrounds will access tennis and educational opportunities, the Center will be a fitting memorial to Cary’s life and will make the world a better place, because he was here.”
On April 9, a few days after celebrating International Day of Sport for Development and Peace and National STUDENT-Athlete Day, the New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL) will commemorate another major milestone in its storied history. A long time in the making, the multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art athletic facility will formally announce its completion.
"NYJTL's Cary Leeds Center, located in Crotona Park within walking distance of 30,000 children, is a reality thanks to a unique public-partnership with the City of New York and the Department of Parks and Recreation," said recently appointed NYJTL President and Chief Executive Officer, George Guimaraes.
Spearheaded by Cary's father and Tory Kiam, a childhood friend and NYJTL Vice Chairman, the project campaign Co-Chairs led the organization to officially break ground on the Center in the spring of 2013. Designed and constructed by GLUCK+ (formerly Peter Gluck and Partners Architects and Locus Construction) with the City of New York and its Department of Parks & Recreation, the Cary Leeds Center opened to fanfare and acclaim in 2015.
“We are honored to have been a partner with this important organization, designing and building for the future of our city,” said Peter Gluck, Founder and Principal at GLUCK+.
"Conceptually, the building is designed as a series of platforms. For viewing tennis, from the vantage point of a young beginner into the professional, world-class competitive level. And metaphorically, a platform to encourage education and create the opportunity for inner city kids to experience success on the tennis court, in a supportive environment, as well as in life."
An architectural showcase boasting a two-story, 12,000-square-foot clubhouse and educational facility, there are 20 outdoor courts, 10 of which are indoors seasonally under air structures. Featuring permanent seating with spectator viewing for 1,000 people, the Center received an award at NYC Public Design Commission's 30th Annual Awards for Excellence in Design. Unobtrusive in the park—one of its two stories is below ground—yet sculptural in nature, the public-private project came in $2,000 below the guaranteed maximum price.
Totaling $26.5 million, the multi-phase undertaking included the $7.5-million reconstruction of Crotona Park’s 20 existing tennis courts. Another $7-million was allocated by City Council, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to create two sunken, stadium courts. At the upcoming ceremony, the two world-class exhibition courts—Victor Kiam and Pershing Square Stadium Courts—along with the Dalia and Larry Leeds Viewing Bridge will be unveiled.
"The collective impact of the donations by the Victor Kiam Family, the Ackman Family, and the Leeds Family cannot be understated," said Guimaraes. "These contributions offer life-changing opportunities to the South Bronx community," one of the poorest Congressional districts in the country.
The philanthropic vehicle of Larry and his wife Dalia, who passed away last year, the Leeds Family Foundation has funded numerous initiatives including Figure Skating in Harlem, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Prep For Prep and City Parks Foundation. Cary's parents have also supported Carnegie Hall Society, Film Society of Lincoln Center, The Met, MoMa, Manhattan Theatre Club, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, UJA Federation of New York, and American Friends of Israel Museum. Their benevolence enticed family, friends and associates to align with one of the most innovative athletic/recreation/fitness facilities in the world.
"Thanks to the generosity of all of our donors, NYJTL has created a landmark in the heart of the Bronx, said NYJTL Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Lewis “Skip” Hartman. "For nearly 40 years NYJTL operated on outdoor courts. This facility is beyond what we could ever have envisioned," said Hartman, General Manager of the Center.
“Of the many ideas and projects that Skip Hartman has put forward to improve the lives and experiences of our city’s children, including the founding of the New York Junior Tennis League, his perseverance in developing the Leeds Center over these long years, has got to be among the greatest things he has done,” said former New York City Mayor David Dinkins in 2015. An avid lover of tennis and longtime friend of NYJTL and Hartman, Dinkins stated he is “thrilled to have been part of this project’s evolution and share in its opening day.”
During its first year of operation, 7,000 children participated in on-court and off-court activities at the Center. Annually, the Center provides more than 6,000 hours of free tennis court time to underserved youth throughout New York City.
Accessible to the community in the 127-acre Crotona Park, event space is available for community organizations and private parties.
"We would welcome the community board and other community groups to actually use our space for some of their meetings," Dr. Deborah Antoine—former NYJTL President and Chief Executive Officer—explained to DNAinfo. Named after the sport’s icon and social justice pioneer, the welcoming Billie Jean King Clubhouse contains the Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson Classrooms, the Tennis Channel Broadcast Center, a Creative Learning Center sponsored by Disney, youth lounge and fitness center. The final phase of construction included the completion of The Eric D. Hadar Family Foundation Courtyard Terrace and Michael Kates Balcony Memorial. Antoine was instrumental in securing the naming rights, partnerships and sponsorship agreements for spaces throughout the Center.
“Deborah is an individual whose guidance, vision and life of service to the community illuminate," said King, whose Women's Sports Foundation is a huge supporter of NYJTL and the world-class complex. "She [Antoine] is committed to championing social change through sports, and her expertise in organizational development, fundraising and strategic planning," continued the Women's Sports Foundation Founder and Honorary Board Chair.
Now Chief Executive Officer of the Women's Sports Foundation, Antoine served as NYJTL's President and Chief Executive Officer, from 2010 to 2016, overseeing the Center's capital campaign. She maintains a connection to NYJTL and the Cary Leeds Center through the Women's Sport Foundation's GoGirlGo!, a Women's Sports Foundation curriculum and sports education program NYJTL uses to get girls active.
Founded in 1969 by the legendary Arthur Ashe, his UCLA teammate Charlie Pasarell and biotech entrepreneur, Sheridan Snyder, the National Junior Tennis League sprang into existence out passion and need. In 1971, with the help of Gene Scott, Bill Shelton, and Erich Werner, Hartman and Ashe started the New York Junior Tennis League. Used to introduce hundreds of thousands of kids to the sport, NYJTL prides itself on being a model for alternative learning opportunities and experiences. Keeping with the mission of NYJTL's founding members, the Center's project leaders wanted to include academic space to maintain its goal of helping children become productive citizens, not just good tennis players.
“We are excited to bring Breakthrough New York to the South Bronx,” Rhea Wong, Breakthrough New York’s Executive Director, said in a released statement. “The Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning is a first-class facility that will allow us to help more Bronx kids than ever before get on the path to a four-year college and a world of success.”
A the tuition-free, six-year college access program, Breakthrough New York has provided NYJTL participants tutoring, test prep, and assistance with high school and college admissions. The non-profit organization has shepherded high-potential, low-income New York City students from public middle schools to four-year higher education institutions. "We couldn’t ask for a better partner than NYJTL, with its commitment to providing academic enrichment and healthy lifestyles to kids throughout New York City,” said Wong.
An asset to the community and NYJTL in many ways, the Cary Leeds Center is NYJTL’s entry into sports tourism and destination marketing. The Center has already contributed to the South Bronx's financial vitality, invigorating the local economy by hosting major local, national, and international professional tennis tournaments that draw participants and spectators from around the world. To remain viable, athletic facilities like the Cary Leeds Center are well positioned to create new revenue-generating opportunities through programming, sales and marketing, and retail operations.
“The new Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning is a great example of a community’s commitment to its greatest assets: its children,” said Jorge Montalvo, former Deputy Secretary for Economic Opportunity for the State of New York.
“As a graduate of the NYJTL, I know this facility will provide tremendous educational and fitness opportunities and help shape kids to become well-rounded individuals,” exclaimed Montalvo.
From 1995-2012, NYJTL promoted the Emblem Health Bronx Open USTA Pro Circuit professional tournament featuring top world-ranked professionals competing as part of the pre-US Open summer tour. During construction of the Cary Leeds Center, the tournament was suspended.
"We are pleased to announce that NYJTL is in discussions with the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) to host a pre-US Open tournament beginning in 2019," said NYJTL Chairman, Martin Goldberg. "We look forward to bringing back top professional competition to our world-class facility. "
As a new chapter dawns in NYJTL's storied history, the organization's "vision is to enable youth to grow with the game," according to Goldberg. The Center is a fantastic venue for Goldberg’s vision to be realized while keeping the legacy alive of the Center’s beloved namesake.
Born Laurence C. Leeds III, Cary attended one of the nation's oldest and elite boys prep schools, Collegiate School. Ranked # 1 in the Boy's 16s and 18s in the Eastern Section of the United States Tennis Association, he went on to star at Yale University, winning the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Association (ITCA) National Doubles Indoor Collegiate Championship with Matt Doyle in 1977. He competed on the World Professional Tennis Circuit for six years, qualifying twice for the main draw in the U.S. Open and appearing five times at Wimbledon, where in 1981 he reached the mixed doubles semifinals.
After retiring from tennis, Cary attended the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, co-founded a software company, and taught tennis before his untimely death in 2003. That same year, his book on the mechanics of athleticism, The Unified Theory of Sports, was published posthumously. In addition to the Center, an endowment in Cary's name, The Cary Leeds Coach of Men's Tennis at Yale, is a lasting tribute that honors a man known for his "zest for living."
"Cary's talents and courage were an inspiration to all who knew him," Nizza Heyman shared shortly after his passing.
In a column penned in the Bronx Times, after the opening of the Center, Larry reflected on Cary's life. "Dalia and I were amazed by how many of Cary’s friends rushed to contribute once plans for the Center were announced. These friends joined with our family to strive to memorialize Cary’s life. As a result, thousands of young Bronx residents will benefit from the joint character building experiences of tennis and education.”
“Thus our dream is being fulfilled by these wonderful experiences that so many children will have as a result of Cary’s legacy. If Cary could look down from heaven he would be so very proud and honored."