By Louis Mayeux

Restoration of the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center is back on center court.

The Friends of Bitsy Grant organization is relaunching fund-raising efforts for the renovation of the Buckhead tennis center’s clubhouse, home of the Georgia Tennis Hall of Fame.

“It’s a spectacular building, a real jewel in terms of architecture,” said Mel Locklear, outgoing president of the organization. “We want to make Bitsy the Wimbledon of the South or the Flushing Meadows of the South.”

Designed by Atlanta architect Richard Aeck and opened in 1953, the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center boasts a colorful history.

Named for 5-foot-4 Atlanta tennis legend Bryan “Bitsy” Grant, a major player in the 1930s and 1940s and winner of 19 national senior titles, the tennis center has hosted major championships, including the 1955 U.S. Clay Court championships. Along with neighboring Bobby Jones Golf Course, Bitsy Grant sits in Memorial Park, where thousands of soldiers died at the Civil War Battle of Peachtree reek.

Locklear said the Friends of Bitsy Grant organization is concentrating on a $615,000 first phase to renovate the upper floors of the clubhouse, including removal of asbestos and lead paint, making the building energy efficient, relocating the starter’s area downstairs, refurbishing its custom glass and moving the HVAC system from the roof to a mechanical room on the bottom floor. The organization hopes to begin the work in August.

In 2007, the group began a campaign to raise $2 million for a more extensive renovation. However, with the recession and unhappiness at the city’s management of its tennis centers, the campaign stalled, Locklear said.

With United Tennis Management having taken over running Bitsy Grant and other tennis centers, the group has new momentum for its fund-raising. With a good base of funds in the bank, it decided to get started on the upper floor work.

“We’re downscaling to focus on the really critical upstairs part,” said Locklear, who made a presentation to Neighborhood Planning Unit C at its March meeting. “We have a couple of hundred thousand in the bank, and are $100,000 to $175,000 away from doing this.”

A strong attraction of Bitsy Grant is its 13 clay courts, which allow for a more strategic, volleying game than hard surfaces. “We have the only public clay courts in Atlanta,” Tim Noonan of United Tennis Management told members of NPU-C in a joint appearance with Locklear.

Noonan said at the NPU meeting that UTM plans to install lighting for all of the clay courts. Only six are lighted now.

Unlike lights now in use at Bitsy Grant, the UTM will install “environmental” lights that illuminate only the courts and should not disturb the surrounding neighborhood, Noonan said. He also said there won’t be any loudspeakers.