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Queens Chronicle

USTA plan reaches Albany then Council

Controversial tennis expansion in FMCP in final stages of review

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Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:51 am, Thu Jun 27, 2013.

The United States Tennis Association’s planned expansion within Flushing Meadows Corona Park is winding its way through the required input and approval process, as both state legislatures now have bills before them that would allow the alienation of parkland in exchange for land the nonprofit said it needs in order to expand.

The bills before the state Senate and Assembly would let the USTA substitute 1.5 acres of land currently under its leasehold for 0.68 acre along its flank.

The Assembly had passed the bill to allow alienation, with Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Corona) as the lead sponsor.

The state Senate did not bring the bill to a vote as of this writing, though it is anticipated to occur soon.

The passage at the Assembly level came as the City Council will bring the proposal to its chambers for a final vote as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) sponsored the home rule legislation that sent the alienation plan up to the state Assembly.

The USTA’s National Tennis Center upgrade, nominally dubbed a “Strategic Vision,” calls for a relocation of the current Grandstand stadium, a renovation of the Louis Armstrong stadium, as well as additional courts and parking facilities. The nonprofit claims the plan would alienate a total of .68 acre of what is currently parkland along its facility’s eastern edge.

But the replacement parkland was called a “swap” by some activists. 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. Advocates blasted the plan, saying that while the leasehold on FMCP acreage may be smaller, by all appearances and uses, the USTA will continue operating as if nothing changed.

The plan drew the ire of local park advocacy groups and elected officials, who deemed expansion a simple landgrab and the USTA’s logic shoddy at best.

“Our goal is to continue to be a good steward of the Park and a good neighbor and community partner,” USTA CEO Daniel Zausner said in a statement after a recent rally blasting the nonprofit’s plan. “Understanding that every inch of parkland is precious, our plan calls for the minimum amount of additional parkland possible, 0.68 acres, to complete the needed upgrades to the NTC. The sliver of land in question is mostly an existing asphalt road. We have no plans for any additional expansion.”

The project is the first of three mulled for the park. A proposed 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium had been eyed for the current site of the Pool of Industry, though that plan appears to be scuttled, and a development group that includes the Mets’ owners’ real estate firm plans to build a 1.4-million-square-foot mall next to Willets Point.

To date, the plan has divided community boards, with the six who voted on the plan split three in favor and three against.

The expansion did get the approval of Borough President Helen Marshall, who included stipulations the USTA replace all parkland and use union labor on all construction work.

The vote on the USTA plan is taking place today, at 11 a.m. in the City Council’s main chamber.

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