Community Board 7’s Parks Committee sent the United States Tennis Association and city Parks Department back to the drawing board last Wednesday, requesting more specifics on the nonprofit’s proposed reinvestment in Flushing Meadows Corona Park as part of its plans to expand the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center within the borough’s largest public space.
Parks and the USTA said it was too soon to commit to specific improvements, as other anticipated projects have also promised to invest in the park, creating the chance of overlapping services.
The board’s vice chairman, Chuck Apelian, said more details about what improvements would be made were needed before the committee could even consider a vote.
“Our position to make any kind of recommendation would be dumb,” he said.
The tennis association has been certified by City Planning to move forward with the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, seeking community input and ultimately City Council approval for a proposed expansion within the park. The plan calls for an additional 0.68 acre of parkland to be relinquished atop the 42 acres the USTA already occupies.
The expansion would not include the dedication of an equal amount of parkland elsewhere, which has been at the heart of complaints by park advocates and local community groups who oppose the plan.
Given the fraction of an acre being lost, the tennis nonprofit and Parks Department have agreed to make a still-undetermined improvement to the park.
“The community is best served in additional investments in Flushing Meadows Corona Park,” said the Parks Department’s assistant commissioner for planning and natural resources, Josh Laird.
What form those improvements will take remains undecided, as a number of factors have yet to be ironed out. Foremost is the proposed Major League Soccer stadium slated for the site of the Pool of Industry. Should it come to fruition, MLS has promised to rejuvenate the park’s soccer fields, as well as make other investments in the park.
Laird said Parks is trying to coordinate improvements between both projects, at which time specifics would be available, before the council’s vote on the USTA project. He pointed to the 2008 Strategic Plan laid out for the park as a starting point.
CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said Parks and the USTA would do well to focus on improvements that would help Community Boards 3, 4, 7 and 8, which are affected by the nonprofit’s crown jewel event, the U.S. Open. Past USTA park fixes have seen tennis court and park improvements reach as far as Astoria, but not within Community Board 7’s territory.
The Parks Department and USTA said it would take the suggestion into consideration. But again, nothing specific has been laid out.
“We don’t want to set anything in stone,” Laird said.
Finding replacement parkland, however, is not a consideration.
“There is no law or set of rules or regulations regulating the alienation of public parkland,” Laird said, adding that legal precedent has established the “public trust doctrine,” which is often the driving force for replacing lost parkland. But the USTA’s facilities are technically open to the public, putting them in a category apart from other private entities taking up parkland.
Board members questioned the assertion: A disparity remains in the cost of using National Tennis Center facilities in comparison to those in other parks. The USTA charges up to $66 for court rentals, well above the $15 charged by the Parks Department for use of courts at other parks. The USTA’s fee structure remains in place even during the four out-of-season months when outdoor tennis courts in other parks are open to the public for free.
The NTC’s upgrade calls for a relocation of the current Grandstand stadium and a renovation of the Louis Armstrong stadium, as well as additional courts and parking facilities.