The version of the Ohio budget passed by House lawmakers late last month includes a one-time $22.5 million for the Western and Southern Open tennis tournament in a bid to keep the high-profile event in Mason. The provision awaits final approval from the Senate.
The funding in the bill was introduced by State Rep. Adam Mathews, R-Lebanon, whose district includes Mason. In August 2022, the United States Tennis Association sold the tournament to billionaire businessman Ben Navarro for an undisclosed amount. The sale raised concerns, investigated by Journal-News partner WCPO, that the tournament could eventually be relocated from Mason, erasing the $80 million tourism bump the tournament brings to the Greater Cincinnati area every summer.
On Wednesday, Navarro pitched plans to leaders in Charlotte, N.C. and Mecklenberg County to move it there.
Navarro is a South Carolina billionaire who owns an investment company called Beemok Capital, which owns the Western & Southern Open.
Other than the tournament, the 12,400-seat stadium, which would be held in the River District of west Charlotte, would hold multiple other events, including concerts, festivals, corporate events, lower-level tournaments and collegiate or junior tournaments. There would also be a pickleball component to the complex, according to a report from WCPO.
In order for the $400 million project to be complete, Navarro’s Beemok Capital is asking for the public to fund a third of the cost, which is roughly $133 million.
When asked about the proposal, Beemok Capital said it had “great respect” for Mason, but the company also said it’s “evaluating a number of options” in order to make major investments into the tournament.
In a press release highlighting the Ohio bill provision, Mathews was characterized as a champion of “the effort to support (Western & Southern Opens’) continued growth in the City of Mason,” since ownership changed hands.
“The Western and Southern Open is among the most coveted tennis tournaments in the world, and its presence here in Mason is a testament to the strength and vitality of our community,” Mathews said. “By including these new funds in the budget, we aim to support new growth of the tournament and ensure it remains here in Mason for years to come. I am grateful for the community partners that have joined in working so hard to ensure this event remains in Ohio.”
The Western and Southern Open is one of nine annual “Masters 1000″ tournaments on the Associated Tennis Professionals tour — a set of tournaments just a tier below the four annual Grand Slams, including the US Open. Hosting a Masters 1000 puts Mason in the company of cities like Shanghai, Rome, Madrid and Paris and brings an estimated 180,000 people to Warren County every year.
Molly Schramm with Journal-News partner WCPO contributed to this report.
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