Mhatever their business venture, Steve Gareleck and Remington Reynolds always thought big.

The new owners of the Sarasota Open tennis tournament aren’t about to change that mindset. “We’re going to make this tournament the best it’s ever been,” said Gareleck, who, along with Reynolds, purchased the ATP Challenger Tour event from former director Tony Driscoll.

“We’re going to make it where people want to be a part of it. Someplace where people want to be.” Besides the change in ownership, the biggest difference fans will notice in the 14-year-old tourney is its new venue. The April event, which starts the clay court season, now will be played at the Payne Park Tennis Center.

Its previous home, Laurel Oak Country Club, was the most recent site, following the Lakewood Ranch Athletic Club, The Resort at Longboat Key Club’s The Tennis Gardens, and the former El Conquistador, now the United Tennis Center, in Bradenton. Purchasing the tournament will allow Gareleck and Reynolds, both in their early 50s, to combine their love of tennis and love of Sarasota. Born in Buffalo, the younger Gareleck vacationed with his family at the old Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, and recently sold a home he had on Siesta Key.

As for tennis, Gareleck played at the Village Glen Tennis Club near Buffalo, and later, at the University of Rochester. “It’s been my life ever since I was a kid,” he said. The family of Reynolds, who played tennis at the University of Pennsylvania and met Gareleck while in college, owned a place at the Colony. In their 20s, the two formed a telecommunications company. Later, Gareleck, an investment banker in New York City, and Reynolds, who focused on real estate, started the Necker Cup, an exhibition tennis tournament played annually on Necker Island, a 74-acre island located in the British Virgin Islands and owned by Sir Richard Branson. Reynolds is the event’s main owner; Gareleck sold his shares in it back to Reynolds. “It’s one of the more exclusive tennis events in the world,”

Gareleck said. In 2008, the duo bought the Racquet Club of the South, the largest tennis venue in Georgia, located in Norcross. “From 2008-2012, we doubled the revenues every year,” Gareleck said. “Then we sold the club for a large profit. We’ve always been focused on tennis. It’s kind of in our genes, in our blood. We have a strong passion for tennis and a strong passion for Sarasota.” When the two owned it, the club hosted ATP events, with purses of $250,000. Several years ago, Gareleck and Reynolds became investors in the Sarasota Open. “We were partners of Tony.” When Driscoll wanted to jettison it, the two were ready. “This past year, it made sense for Tony to get out of it,” Gareleck said. “He wanted to do something different and so we took it over.”

The two want to better the Sarasota Open, and that starts with attracting higher-ranked players, something Gareleck said a $200,000 purse, double that of past Opens, should accomplish. “We have the buy in from the USTA,” he said. “We’re just waiting to hear from the ATP. We should be able to get players in the top 30.” Gareleck said the key is improving the VIP side of the event. “You want to have foot traffic and people at the event, but it’s got to be a really great experience.” The bigger purse should mean more exposure on TV.The two want to include the event in a travel package with Sarasota attractions that entice out-of-staters. Tickets will have more and lower price points, making the Open more affordable to young people and seniors. “We’ve got very strong sponsors coming on board who will help support the tournament,” Gareleck said. “We got a great deal with the city, and I think we can help drive revenues downtown, especially by drawing more people.” “The potential of (the Open) to improve and grow, I think, is immense,” said Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody, who was involved in the event moving to Payne Park. “It’s all about having a great experience and a great time,” Gareleck said.

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