With the City Council’s July 24 approval of the United States Tennis Association’s application to lease 0.68 acre to expand the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, one of the deal’s major supporters, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), presented highlights of the agreement to constituents and members of the clergy on Aug. 7 at St. Leo’s Roman Catholic Church in Corona.
Ferreras reported that the USTA has agreed to make a fiscal commitment to the park and engage the local community through various outreach programs.
“As part of the plan reached, the USTA has agreed to allocate $10.05 million for improvements to enhance public safety and contribute to the overall maintenance of the park,” she said at the forum sponsored by Faith in New York, an interfaith federation that addresses community injustices and aims to influence public policy.
According to the agreement, the USTA will provide $5 million over a six-year period to be used by the city Parks Department for capital costs to complete park improvement projects. The USTA will also provide annual support to a new park conservancy organization, to be known as the Alliance, for maintenance, cleaning and/or improvement of the park. Towards this goal, the USTA will provide $350,000 per year for three years, after which it will provide annual funding of $200,000 for 20 additional years.
Ferreras said the conservancy, a nonprofit public-private partnership ,will be “a model that is transparent, maximizes community involvement, and ensures there is adequate oversight of the park’s needs and finances.” According to Ferreras, the park generates more money than any other park in the city.
The Alliance would enable park improvements to occur more efficiently, provide financial oversight and park stewardship, increase the number of staff dedicated to the park, allow for flexibility in operational decisions and hiring, and provide a reliable outlet for community input and a proactive source of community outreach, she added.
Also, the Alliance “will have a community arm. We want it to be a well-rounded board.” And she said she would like to see the park benefit more from the many concessions, including Citi Field, Queens Theatre, the New York Hall of Science, and the Queens Museum of Art.
“Have we ever asked where does the money go from these concessions? One hundred percent to city coffers,” she suggested, with very little going back to the park.”
The conservancy would be in addition to the already-existing Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy — founded by late community activist Patricia Dolan.
The USTA has also promised to re-institute as an annual event Queens Day, a popular cultural celebration held for years in the park, beginning next summer. In addition, they will hold a job fair each year, work with local schools to offer to hold their graduation ceremonies, at cost, at the tennis center, and distribute 5,000 complimentary tickets to community groups for Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day.
The USTA is also promising free summer movie screenings and, for a nominal fee, community tennis programs.
Ferrreras urged those on hand to “do whatever you can to participate in US Open events. We have to show our presence.”
In response to audience questions, she said that construction on the USTA’s projects was scheduled to begin this coming January, estimating total construction time at around a decade.
Among audience members, skepticism surrounding several related issues was strong.
Mavis Hall of East Elmhurst attended the forum to learn more about the plans.
“I’m glad they’re open to discussing it. Has the decision already been made?” She wondered if forums such as last Wednesday’s are called “just to check the box that they brought it to the public.”
At another audience member’s suggestion that the Willets Point plan is a done deal, Ferreras said, “Williets Point is not done. We still have a vote. We still have a hearing.”
Rev. William Hoppe, a member of Faith in New York, invited Ferreras to speak at his church and made it clear that “the park is a very important issue.”