The United States Tennis Association, three Queens elected officials and some parks advocates this week lauded a deal with the city that would have the nonprofit “replace” land it wants so it can expand its National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The accord reached between the nonprofit and city represents a unique bargain: according to a press release sent by the USTA, it replaces the 0.68 acre of parkland needed for its expansion with 1.56 acres of what looks like, is used as and mapped as existing parkland already within Flushing Meadows.
The USTA is giving back parkland it leased, but continuing to use it as if it’s paying rent, according to the nonprofit. The deal represents no net gain in the acreage of mapped city parkland, yet elected officials who were hesitant about the expansion welcomed the deal.
“At the outset of the project, the city suggested that park improvements would result in a more meaningful degree of public benefit than an in-kind replacement for the 0.68 acres that is proposed for alienation,” read a statement from USTA President Daniel Zausner. “However, understanding that every inch of parkland is precious and after seeking input and recommendations from the local Queens communities and elected officials, the USTA, in consultation with the Parks Department, decided it was in the best interest of all parties to propose a parkland swap.”
The so-called replacement parkland combines two fraction-of-an-acre chunks within FMCP. The first is a 0.8-acre chunk of city Parks Department property leased to the USTA, currently consisting of five tennis courts. The property is maintained by the nonprofit but open to the public 50 weeks a year. It is closed off during the two weeks the park hosts the US Open.
The USTA said it will relinquish the property, but it will continue to house five tennis courts. The property will continue to be maintained by the nonprofit but be open to the public 50 weeks a year. It will be closed off during the two weeks the park hosts the US Open.
How that changes anything baffles the likes of Geoffrey Croft, who as part of NYC Park Advocates and Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park, has blasted the USTA’s plan from the onset.
“They’re swapping land that we already gave them,” he said. “They’re supposedly giving it back to us, but they get to retain it in the end. This is a scam, a shell game.”
The other parcel of parkland is a stone’s throw from the USTA’s six other public outdoor courts in Flushing Meadows, a 0.75-acre concrete triangle between the Miniature Golf course and Perimeter Road that also belongs to the city but is leased to the USTA.
The tennis nonprofit’s plans to expand in the park call for the creation of a new Grandstand, a rejuvenated Louis Armstrong Stadium, a new shopping center and other amenities. But the USTA has claimed it requires 0.68 acre of parkland to widen a path leading spectators to the new Grandstand.
The initial proposal did not include a provision for replacement parkland, asserting the sought-after chunk of FMCP was not worth the bother of replacing, and would instead be made up for via improvements to the park.
That assertion changed after several community boards and elected officials demanded the land be replaced.
That same crew of lawmakers came forward to applaud the USTA’s deal with the city.
“We are pleased that the USTA has agreed to replace parkland,” stated Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) in the USTA’s press release. “It is the right thing to do. Our community has too little green space and losing even an inch would be felt by the working people who depend on Flushing Meadows Corona Park.”
Ferreras, whose support would be key to the plan’s passage at the city level, stuck to her assertion that it was a good deal for the community and would not elaborate on her statement any further.
“As the City Council begins to consider this proposal, we are ready to work with the USTA to address our community’s other major concerns,” she said. The remaining issues include an initial cash infusion for improvements in the park, as well as an annual payout to aid in the park’s maintenance.
Borough President Helen Marshall stated last month her support was contingent upon replacing the parkland, using union labor for the project’s workforce and keeping the Louis Armstrong name on the NTC’s oldest stadium. She got one of the three so far.
“I am delighted with today’s announcement,” she said in a statement included in the USTA’s press release touting the deal.
Ditto Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), whose support would be integral in approving the alienation of parkland at the state level.
The USTA’s plan is seen as the tip-off point for a possible public-private partnership that would ensure greater funding for Flushing Meadows’ upkeep. With a proposed Major League Soccer stadium and 1.4 million-square-foot mall next to Citi Field also in the works, groups like New Yorkers for Parks hoped the USTA’s deal would set a precedent for any future deals.
NY4P’s Holly Leicht agreed the acquisition of the 1.56 acres of parkland is more akin to a swap, but it’s a technical victory over an entity that, before Tuesday, was not planning to surrender anything in exchange for its 0.68-acre request.
“This is the first acknowledgement that they have to do some kind of replacement. From a use perspective, we aren’t anywhere different, that’s true,” she said, however pointing out that the USTA’s long-term lease of 42 acres of the park could be considered a de facto privatization of parkland.
Parks Department Commissioner Veronica White said, “The proposed replacement parkland will provide a benefit to park visitors and help to ensure that Flushing Meadows Corona Park continues to serve as a world stage for the US Open tournament, one of New York City’s premier sporting and cultural events.”
The USTA’s plan, however, was never publically expressed as a take-it-or-we’re-leaving deal. And White’s statement, also included in the tennis nonprofit’s announcement, doesn’t elaborate on how the replacement land’s use will change to additionally benefit FMCP’s visitors.