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Queens Chronicle

Tennis club seeks stadium proposals

Developers tour site where Ashe, Gibson, Beatles wrote history

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Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:18 pm, Thu Sep 1, 2011.

The West Side Tennis Club is once again soliciting proposals from firms interested in developing the land under and possibly around the site of the historic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.

Club officials toured the historic 1923 structure with more than a half dozen developers on Monday, and have requested that all interested submit their proposals by Oct. 31.

“In a perfect world, I’d love to see a savior come, restore the stadium and bring the U.S. Open back to Forest Hills,” said Ken Parker, president of the WS TC.

“We have no concrete plans, because we haven’t heard from any of the developers yet,” Parker said. “But if we don’t get a proposal we like we won’t even submit it to the members. This isn’t a fire sale. We’re not going under. We have a stadium that we’re not using and we’re interested in seeing if others are interested in it.”

The stadium was a place where legends of tennis and music held court for more than 50 years.

The courts have hosted Big Bill Tilden, Billie Jean King and Roger Federer. Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe broke down tennis’s racial barriers there in the 1950s and 1960s, with both winning U.S. Open championships.

The horseshoe-shaped venue also welcomed The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan among others.

Cord Meyer Development Co., of Forest Hills was among the groups represented Monday, according to company Chief Operating Officer Anthony Colletti.

“We toured the site with six or seven others,” Colletti said. “We’ve been interested in that property for 15 or 20 years through various administrations at the club.”

The steel and concrete structure has fallen into disrepair since the U.S. Open left for a larger venue in Flushing in the late 1970s. Colletti said the club does not use the old grandstand because of safety concerns, and the deterioration was a major factor cited last year when the city declined to give the stadium landmark status.

Colletti said they are interested in the land beneath the stadium, and will consider the club’s offer of some of the clay courts adjacent to it.

He said under current zoning a developer could replace the stadium with things like two-story townhouse structures. But if the facade is preserved, a new building could go up to five stories.

Michael Perlman, chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, still hopes the club and developers can agree on a plan that preserves the stadium not only as a structure, but as the destination outdoor venue it once was.

“It has great significance in architectural and cultural history,” Perlman said.

He said even before the site came to national attention it was the first concrete stadium designed exclusively for tennis, and was conceived by famed architect Kenneth Murchison.

“It put Forest Hills on the map and helped turn tennis into a national sport,” Perlman said. He said a rejuvenated 14,000-seat area could once again be a draw for tennis stars, concerts, weddings and graduations.

“It would be great for the area’s businesses on Austin Street and Queens Boulevard,” Perlman said. “It would take some creative energy but it’s not impossible. I wouldn’t want to do something short-sighted for a quick buck. I wouldn’t want people to be reading about this in history texts. I’d rather have them be able to visit history firsthand.”

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