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Elite tennis academy set for Clarence-Rockland

Aaron Markel, co-founder of Rockland Racket Sports, left, shakes hands with Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth, right, at an event in early 2024. If things go according to plan, work will get underway this summer on a new high-performance tennis academy in the community just east of Ottawa. (City of Clarence-Rockland - image credit)
Aaron Markel, co-founder of Rockland Racket Sports, left, shakes hands with Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth, right, at an event in early 2024. If things go according to plan, work will get underway this summer on a new high-performance tennis academy in the community just east of Ottawa. (City of Clarence-Rockland - image credit)

Clarence-Rockland, Ont., could soon be home to what's being described as a "world-class" academy for budding tennis stars.

Last week, council in the city just east of Ottawa unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to let Rockland Racket Sports run a tennis and pickleball campus on two parcels of land just off Highway 17.

The first phase of the public-private partnership (P3) would see Rockland Racket Sports build an indoor dome with four tennis courts, roughly 14 outdoor pickleball courts and a viewing pavilion, according to the agreement.

That work is slated to begin this summer, with players ideally getting access to the courts by the fall, the city said in a news release.

Then in 2025, construction would begin on the second phase: a larger building that would house the tennis academy, plus a gym, restaurant and other retail businesses.

Under the terms of the MOU, Rockland Racket Sports would cover the roughly $20-million cost of the campus, while the municipality would proffer roughly 1.5 hectares of land for it to be built on.

"We have to stop relying on citizens to shoulder the tax burden of all these kinds of infrastructures," said Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"And I think these types of partnerships with the city [are] exactly what we need for economic development."

These two parcels of land are set to be given to Rockland Racket Sports to build a new high-performance tennis academy in Clarence-Rockland, Ont.
These two parcels of land are set to be given to Rockland Racket Sports to build a new high-performance tennis academy in Clarence-Rockland, Ont.

These two parcels of land are set to be given to Rockland Racket Sports to build a new high-performance tennis academy in Clarence-Rockland, Ont. (City of Clarence-Rockland)

Elite training opportunity

For the region's promising young tennis players, the private academy will offer them a chance to soak up elite training without the disruption of moving halfway around the world, said Rockland Racket Sports co-founder Aaron Markel.

Markel told Ottawa Morning how, when he was younger, that was his reality — and while he has no regrets, the life of a young tennis player was also "terrible" in its own way.

"I left my family and friends and life behind to pursue a dream," Markel said. "And I really feel proud that now those same children can stay local. They can live at the academy if they choose to, or they can commute. But they can keep their life intact."

While training world-class athletes is the facility's goal, Markel said they're also committed to setting aside 70 per cent of the court time there for locals to book.

Membership drives are already underway to cover the costs, he said, while future events such as clinics and tennis camps will also help pay for the facility.

While Clarence-Rockland council has approved the MOU, it still needs to give its assent to the project as a whole, Zanth said.

If that happens, the city — which is already home to the Canadian International Hockey Academy — would reap the economic benefits from high-profile tennis tournaments and the like, Zanth said.

"[We're] going to be, essentially, a sports tourism hub that's going to be the envy of eastern Ontario."