By Jason Massad

The operator of the Blackburn Tennis Center could be facing the loss of a long-term business venture.

This month, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, approved a new operation, Universal Tennis Management LLC, to run the Blackburn facility and DeKalb Tennis Center, based on the company’s higher bid ranking.

However, they pulled back on the vote to dig into how the city’s purchasing and contract department evaluated the bidding process for the operation of the two county recreation facilities.

Three proposals were submitted. The bid submitted by Universal Tennis Management LLC, a Marietta-based business established in 2009, ranked highest. Ranked second was the decades-long operator, Operation Tennis Management, Inc., an Atlanta-based business established in 1976, according to state records.

Commissioner Elaine Boyer suggested that the bids be looked into by the commission before the potentially lucrative contract was granted to Universal Tennis.

“It was just so that we could look more in depth and into the rankings and into the procurement process,” Commissioner Jeff Rader said.

Related to the delay, Rader said, is an across-the-board change in the way the commission is approaching county contracts. The county wants to periodically put out to bid contracts for outside services so that it can make sure it’s receiving the best service and price.

In this case, the county changed some long-standing policies in how it will handle the operation of the Blackburn Tennis Center, located near Dunwoody and Brookhaven, and the DeKalb Tennis Center, located in Decatur.

Previously, a vendor paid a rental fee to the county and then the private company made a profit above that.

The county now is looking out for the long-term future of the facilities and also wants a cut of the profits of the operation, Rader said.

For instance, part of the new bid specified that the vendor would be responsible for $20,000 per year in capital improvements for the recreational facilities, Rader said.

Then there’s the profit sharing. And here’s where the higher-ranked bidder, Universal Tennis Management and Operation Tennis varied greatly in their proposals.

Universal Tennis Management has agreed to the county’s new stipulations and is offering 2 percent of the gross revenue per year from the facilities.

Operation Tennis, meanwhile, promised 12 percent of the gross revenue per year after revenue exceeded $900,000. Historical data on the cash-flow generated at the tennis centers didn’t suggest that $900,000 was a realistic target, Rader said.

“We wanted a guaranteed minimum and a percentage of the upside,” Rader said. “It seems like $900,000 was wishful thinking and therefore we would never get that percentage.”

A new vote on the matter is expected in early January. The terms of the contract dictate a one-year deal with the possibility of four one-year renewals.