Community Board 7’s Parks Committee continues to drive a hard bargain with the United States Tennis Association, tabling a vote Feb. 13 over the nonprofit’s planned expansion within Flushing Meadows Corona Park, again citing a lack of specifics on community benefits.
But the meeting was not a complete wash: CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty suggested the USTA and city Parks Department make a long-term investment in the park in the form of an initial capital contribution geared toward immediate fixes, as well as a long-term endowment funded by the tennis organization for the perpetual upkeep of the park.
“There’s an opportunity to make sure there’s an endowment and to make the USTA a steward of the park,” Kelty said. “If there’s any fighting chance this will be approved, we need a dollar figure.”
The planned expansion, alongside plans for a Major League Soccer stadium and 1.4-million-square-foot mall on Citi Field’s parking lot, have brought to light the park’s admittedly shambolic state, despite its many glitzy neighbors.
“The Parks Department needs to do a better job of paying attention to the largest green space in the largest borough in the city,” CB 7 Parks Committee Chairwoman Kim Ohanian said to Parks Deparment Assistant Commissioner Joshua Laird. “You treat it like crap.”
The USTA is somewhat amenable to the plan, according to its president, Daniel Zausner.
“We’re willing to contribute. We’ve always been contributing,” he said in an interview. He did not, however, offer a specific dollar figure and emphasized the organization’s “ask,” a piece of parkland that will not be replaced, which fuels opposition to the plan.
The USTA has filed a joint application along with Parks to expand the National Tennis Center within Flushing Meadows Corona Park, with additions that include a new Grandstand Stadium, a rejuvenated Louis Armstrong Stadium, parking and courts. Most of the expansion would occur within parkland already leased to the organization during its first expansion in 1993.
But in order to create an acceptable flow of people to the new Grandstand within the NTC, the USTA asserts it must expand its southern boundary facing the Unisphere by .68 acre to accommodate wider pathways. That parkland, or “ask,” has put the tennis organization at the center of a debate over the surrender of parkland to private developers.
Opposition groups like the Fairness Coalition of Queens and Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park have blasted the USTA’s plan, which they have categorized as a land grab.
The promise of ongoing funding toward the park is a good start, according to Hilary Klein of Make the Road, which is a Fairness Coalition member, but does not alleviate concerns about the loss of parkland and Flushing Meadows’ pressing needs.
“We’re encouraged by signs from them that they’re reaching out to the community,” she said. “We’d like to see more of that kind of response. But the history of their presence in the park has not lent itself to proving the history that they’re being good neighbors.”
According to Zausner, the USTA has done its best to be a good neighbor, pointing to a boom in economic activity during the US Open. Misperceptions are fueling anything short of that notion, he said.
“We’ve been a pretty decent neighbor,” Zausner said. “I think we’ve been a little too focused on doing the work instead of getting the message out there.
“At the end of the day we’re going to support what the community feels is in its best interest,” he added. “The USTA is willing to grow off the success it’s had being a steward of the park.”