(Bloomberg) -- When Doug Kimmelman was starting out at Goldman Sachs in 1980s Los Angeles, he brought his girlfriend to the office during off-hours to work on a secret project together.
“Don’t tell Goldman Sachs, but we used to use the copy machine every weekend to make booklets for the kids,” Kimmelman said.
That early support for a public school teacher in L.A., some 30 years on, has turned into something much bigger. Kimmelman, who now runs his own private equity firm, is spending $40 million to build a tennis and education center in Carson, California, about 10 miles from the elementary school where his wife taught when they were dating.
The project came into focus after Carol Kimmelman died of ovarian cancer in 2017 at the age of 53. Kimmelman and their four children started talking about what to do to honor her memory. They focused on two things: her early commitment to teaching disadvantaged youth in the region where she grew up, and her love for tennis. Not only was she an excellent player -- on USC’s national championship team in 1983 and in competitions almost right up until she died -- she’d served on an advisory board for the United States Tennis Association Foundation.
Kimmelman, 58, reached out to the USTA. The organization and its entities steered $10 million toward establishing the West Coast hub of the National Junior Tennis and Learning Program and for the development of world-class American players. It will contain as many as 52 tennis courts.
For the education component, he hustled an introduction to Tiger Woods, impressed with the TGR Foundation’s STEM program in Anaheim. Woods found a “synergy” with the project honoring Carol, as he had been through an similar experience, creating the Earl Woods Scholars mentoring program after his father died. TGR is running a learning center on the 80-acre site, which, ironically enough, is replacing part of a golf course. Woods doesn’t mind.
“When we first started, we were a golf-based foundation,” Woods said in an interview. “After 9/11, I decided to go a different route. I told my dad, we’re not going to be golf-based, we’re going to be education-based. That’s how I was raised. School became before sports.”
In Carson, Woods said he sees an opportunity to “put together a building in which we encourage all the kids that this is your property, you take ownership of it.” It will be 25,000 square feet and contain labs, classrooms and interactive stations. And he said the foundation is looking to extend its reach globally to reach millions of kids.
In fact, running his foundation may well become a full-time endeavor. “Absolutely, I don’t foresee my playing career out here as long as others competing at the highest level,” Woods said. “Now, will I play the game, yes, but playing the game and going against the best players on a weekly basis are two different things. Sometime down the road I will be able to put my full energies into the direction of the foundation.”
Kimmelman has been the driver of the project even as he runs Energy Capital Partners. He said the execution requires the same skills he uses at work.
“Just show me the brick wall and we will run through it,” Kimmelman said. “In any project there are curve balls, disappointments and challenges and you figure your way out around them. To me there are enormous parallels in my business world.”
Building on a landfill has required legal work by land-use lawyers at Latham & Watkins, which donated its services. That aspect “did not sound like a daunting thing” to Kimmelman, whose firm owns facilities that burn garbage to make electricity.
Kimmelman also was determined to build support for the project from the people who would benefit: those in the community. He visited the school where his wife taught, the same one where he used to go on his lunch break (“The famous line is her third-graders would ask her, ‘Miss Richardson, why is Mr. Doug in his church clothes?”’ he said.)
He sat down at a card table at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Carson, where a member of the Samoan community told him their kids desperately needed soccer fields. That’s when he went to Philip Anschutz’s AEG and the Los Angeles Galaxy pro soccer franchise and signed them on as partners.
Kimmelman had no discomfort facing people of much lesser means that he has. “I was born in Irvington, New Jersey, a tough town. I’m a public school kid,” he said.
At Goldman, he was placed in pipeline and utilities. “People who work at utilities, it’s not about making the big dollars, it’s about a providing a service that’s a public good. My world for 20 years was traveling around in the middle of the country. Maybe where I happened to end up was in a world with normal people, with hard-working people. We have 15,000 employees in our different portfolio companies, people working in power plants. Maybe I’ve just been exposed to the real world more so than if I was a hedge-fund guy at a trading desk.”
The cost of the project is estimated to be $60 million to $100 million. The plans are going through county approvals. Construction could begin in 2020 with a completion date projected for 2021.
The Kimmelman Family Foundation is giving $30 million for construction and $10 million toward the annual operating budget. Many of Carol’s friends have donated too, he said, though fundraising hasn’t begun in earnest.
“We decided we’re going to do this at this magnitude, and let’s see what it costs,” Kimmelman said. “If we did a couple of tennis courts, what’s that going to change?”
(Updates with USTA funding in fifth paragraph.)
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