The United States Tennis Association has proposed a plan to maintain and improve its infrastructure and operations to keep the US Open a top-rated international event. The bold, multi-year, self-funded strategic improvements outlined in the plan did not come about in a vacuum, but rather as a smart response to the international reality that the other Grand Slam Tournaments (Wimbledon, Australia Open and the French Open) are spending close to a combined $1 billion in improvements to their facilities while several other cities and governments throughout the world are currently building top-notch facilities. These other activities are occurring for a single purpose — to take away business via elevated sponsor expectations and new industry-setting standards, from the US Open, from Queens and from New York City. As Queens residents and New Yorkers, we must simply not allow this to happen.
Legitimate concerns have been raised by some community residents and several of my colleagues in elected positions about the protection of parkland in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Considering the small and precious amounts of parkland in Queens I would tend to agree. However, as a representative of a district adjacent to the park who has recently been able to allocate $250,000 to upgrade ball fields 13 and 14 so the community can benefit from better facilities in the park, I do believe the characteristics of the space involved in this particular instance deserves to be considered. The fact is that not only is almost all of the upgrading of these facilities to be done inside the land that is currently leased, but the land outside is .68 acre and is currently an underutilized asphalt road.
The USTA has clearly done everything in its power to minimize the impact to the park when considering their bold self-funded plans; self-funding which stands in stark contrast to almost every other facility that has received matching public dollars for rehabilitation or upgrades to their facilities. The USTA plan for that small parcel of land is to use the current asphalt road, which is one of three right next to each other, as a buffer made of brush to separate the facility from the park which will give that small piece of land in question much more of a feel of a park than it has now.
What will also be brought if the expansion is approved is a multi-phase project and new facilities that include top-of-the line enhancements to the Grandstand, a new Louis Armstrong Stadium at its current location along with a new retail/administration building, additional on-site parking, improvements to Arthur Ashe Stadium, a new pedestrian walkway and upgrades to the Northwest and Southerly Tournament Courts. The projected $500 million expansion plan for the Tennis Center will be funded entirely by USTA.
The US Open generates over $750 million in revenue a year for New York City. Much of this money is spent on hotels, restaurants, entertainment and other purchases by the spectators. During the US Open, attendees, players, media, sponsors and staff account for 16 percent of the city’s total hotel occupancy. In Queens alone, the US Open is responsible for nearly 2,600 room nights. The US Open also creates 6,000 seasonal jobs, a majority of which go to local residents, and generates 127 full-time jobs for locals. In addition the proposed expansion plan would net nearly 800 full-time jobs (some 80 jobs per year) for local residents over a 10-year construction period. These numbers will grow incrementally and significantly as each additional phase of this plan is complete.
In sum, residents of the surrounding communities, users of the park, patrons of the US Open and particularly Queens and New York City residents should weigh the benefits and look to coalesce around this project to enable the USTA to retain its top-tier status for these international competitions. I believe the USTA has done an outstanding job developing this project and my colleagues and community leaders are right to express their reservations about any process that results in a loss of parkland. I therefore urge, in the strongest terms possible, that all parties involved come together on a plan to solve this problem so we can review it publicly and achieve what’s in the best interest of all New Yorkers.
Andrew Hevesi is New York State Assemblyman for the 28th District, in central Queens.