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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023


These days, the answer to “tennis anyone?” is apparently no. Just ask the folks who built The Racquet Centre. A Studio City institution since 1977, the racquet ball and tennis club is about to come down, a victim of the waning enthusiasm for the sport. “The fitness clubs with a fully integrated fitness strategy, which are offering a lot of different products, are faring a lot better than just the tennis club,” said David Rose, vice president of equity research at West L.A.-based Jefferies Group Inc., which tracks the fitness industry. Built on nearly six acres of unused freeway property, the center prospered through the ’70s and ’80s when colorful professional tennis players like Jimmy Connors and Billie Jean King were inspiring fans to pick up racquets of their own. But the trends in fitness have changed and activities like golf, in-line skating, hockey, soccer and spinning have replaced tennis and racquetball. Thomas R. Von Der Ahe, president of North Hollywood-based VDA Property Co., which developed the center along with the Hayden family, owners of the land, said that business has dropped off to about 50 percent of what it had been during the height of the center’s popularity. On a recent Friday morning, only one of the center’s 20 tennis courts was being used. On that same morning, only one of its 11 racquetball courts was reserved for Saturday, traditionally one of the center’s busiest days. “So you can see this doesn’t generate a lot of revenue,” Von Der Ahe said. He declined to release specific revenue figures. The club will be replaced by a 100,000-square-foot shopping center anchored by a 55,000-square-foot Ralphs store. Ralphs Grocery Co. has been ordered to divest some stores, including one in Studio City, as a result of its pending merger with Hughes Markets. But those plans won’t affect the new market. Studio City Residents Association President Tony Lucente, whose protests to the state attorney general played a role in the order to divest, said that while he has concerns about the size and hours of the proposed Ralphs, he is not opposed to it because the company has agreed to sell its Laurel Canyon-Ventura Boulevard store. “We feel that we’ve stopped the Ralphs monopoly in Studio City even though they’re going to be able to build this store,” Lucente said. Von Der Ahe said the shopping center has actually been in the planning stages for more than two decades. The Hayden family originally wanted to build a grocery store on the land. In the 1970s, however, consumers were not used to underground parking lots, and a grocery store on the site would require one because the shape of the parcel ? long and narrow ? does not allow for enough surface parking. Now, trends in shopping center design have changed too, and shoppers have grown accustomed to underground parking, the developers said. Case in point: The neighboring shopping center at Laurel Canyon and Ventura boulevards, which uses underground parking, is a bustling center of activity. Demolition of The Racquet Centre is planned for July or August, and the new shopping center is expected to open in the fall of 1999. Developers also plan to include a chain drugstore, restaurant and smaller shops at the site. As for the racquetball club, “It was never in the cards that this was going to be a forever thing anyway,” Von Der Ahe said.

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