Durban — Red tape surrounding an advertising sign may force the closure of one of Durban’s most iconic sporting venues by the end of the month.
The Westridge Park Tennis Stadium in Berea needs money to settle a municipal bill to avoid being shut down.
eThekwini Tennis Association (ETA) president Gary Brown said the stadium could close at the end of the month unless they secured the funds.
“The problem is we had an advertising sign that was up for 15 years and that was our main source of funds, and they had an agreement with the municipality.”
Brown said the sign came down in 2022 because the sign company wanted to change to a digital signboard.
“ETA was not party to this decision. The sign company was told they had to get approval from the council for the sign to be changed, which sadly they did not do. A new company applied to put up a new digital sign, but their application was rejected,” said Brown.
“The sign company has started an appeal process and we hope it will be approved and we will be able to get the funds so we can survive.
“We have had a lease agreement with the municipality since 1959. That’s more than 60 years and we are doing our best for the development of tennis for youth and adults. We have more than 60 children from Cato Manor in our development squads.
“Some of our development players have made the KZN school squads and some have gone on to represent our country overseas. We have 11 staff who will be unemployed if the stadium closes. We are already reducing hours because of the lack of funds,” he said.
The stadium has 25 tournament level hard courts, including seven floodlit courts, and a centre court with seating for 7 500 spectators.
ETA is responsible for the administration of various tennis leagues during the year, with 22 affiliated clubs and schools participating in and around eThekwini.
It has provided programmes for children from the surrounding Cato Crest, Mayville and Chesterville areas, encouraging them to play the sport and providing an alternative to being on the streets.
The centre court has attracted successful national and international tennis events including the Davis Cup and International Tennis Federation tournaments, and also hosted popular music, cultural, religious and sporting acts, including the WWE.
Brown said ETA was not party to subleasing agreements with sign companies to manage signage because those agreements were between the company and the City.
“We really need the advertising sign to be re-erected so we can survive and keep Westridge Park Tennis Stadium going, in the interest of tennis and the community. We have no intention of terminating our lease agreement with the City. However, without the revenue from the sign it will be extremely difficult,” he said.
The eThekwini Municipality’s communications department said the City had entered into a lease agreement with the KZN Tennis Association to occupy the Westridge Park Tennis Stadium. It acknowledged that the association and venue had benefited children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and had also developed tennis as a sport.
It said the KZN Tennis Association sub-leased an external company to manage signage and advertising within the venue. In 2023, the association wanted to migrate their signage located inside the venue from analogue to digital.
“They submitted an application which was refused in line with the eThekwini outdoor advertising by-law (duration of permit: a billboard may be permitted for a period of five years in urban areas of minimum control and in urban areas of partial control subject to conditions which may be imposed by the municipality). This means that every five years, applications are to be submitted for consideration.
“Furthermore, the area is a maximum control area and therefore the type of signage required is not permitted as per the below extract from the by-law:
“(a) Only low-impact outdoor advertising signs which do not intrude into, dominate, or derogate in any way from the character or quality of the environment, including the visual, social and traffic safety aspects, will be permitted.
“(b) Third-party advertising is not permitted.”
The statement also said a meeting between the City and the association’s representatives was held last week to discuss the matter, and the process of appeal was explained to them.
The City expressed its willingness to work with the KZN Tennis Association because it had developed a good long-term relationship with them and they complied with the City’s by-laws. However, if the association wished to terminate the lease agreement, this “cannot be prevented”.
Since news of the possible closure surfaced, a BackaBuddy campaign has raised R18 792 for the ETA.
Independent on Saturday