By Elizabeth Shirley

The Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) is trying to give purpose to unused land adjacent to College Park Airport’s active runway. 

Brad Frome, who sits on JTCC’s advisory board, commended the center’s team for their work in increasing membership, growth which has made expanding its facilities necessary to accommodate more tennis players. Seventy-three percent of the players using JTCC facilities are local to Prince George’s County, and the proposed construction plans would increase the tennis facility’s overall capacity by 33%.

The center has proposed two buildings for the site; together, they would add six indoor tennis courts, office spaces and locker rooms, as well as a new workout area and café. JTCC Senior Vice President Joe Wilkerson described the proposed architecture as an “homage to the airport,” with windows in the café facing the runway and a metal roof intended to match the airport terminal’s own roof.

Based on existing airport runway data and elevations provided by the College Park Airport to the Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA), though, both proposed buildings exceed airspace height restrictions, one by 8 feet and the other by 26 feet. 

According to the MAA, if a structure exceeds height regulations, it might restrict the airspace necessary for safe takeoff and landing. If the facilities were built in violation of regulations, they would also place the historic airport in violation of the Code of Maryland Regulations, which could result in the airport losing government grants and even its license.

Wilkerson explained that according to tennis regulations, for an indoor space to meet court requirements, the ceiling must be 40 feet high at the court’s center post. In the proposed location, any building JTCC might construct to meet tennis codes would block at least 7 feet of the adjacent airspace. 

The parcel JTCC would like to build on is a strip of dirt between the center’s outdoor tennis courts and the airport runway. It has been largely unused for at least 5 years.

Established in 1909, the College Park Airport was used by the Wright Brothers as a military demonstration and training site. It is the world’s oldest continually operating airport and currently serves general aviation pilots.

While the city does live with constant development, the College Park Airport Authority (CPAA) has concerns about permitting the JTCC plans to move forward. “It sets a precedent of obstruction creep in the local area near the airport,” said a CPAA authority who asked to remain anonymous. “They’re doing a lot of building around here; everybody’s going to creep a little more,” he added.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently conducting a study to assess the risk the proposed buildings would pose to pilots’ takeoff and landing range. Both the airport and JTCC hope to see results of the study by late June.

On May 2, the MAA requested an action plan from JTCC addressing the MAA’s concerns, but as of May 30, the MAA had not received a response.

Pending FAA approval, Wilkerson said that JTCC would hope to break ground by the end of 2023, with the new facility projected to open in 2025. Wilkerson noted that any alternative to the currently proposed plan would be significantly more costly to the JTCC, which is a non-profit organization.

To submit a public comment to the FAA, visit this site; comments close on June 7.