Civic leaders, Avella rally against USTA

Civic leaders and park activists joined state Sen. Tony Avella in protesting the United States Tennis Assocation’s planned expansion within Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Residents, civic leaders and activists on Sunday rallied against the proposed expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s presence in Flushing Meadows Corona Park ahead of the City Planning Commission’s scheduled hearing on the plan this Wednesday.

“Parkland is sacred,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside). “You’ve gotta ask, what the heck is going on with the politicians in the borough of Queens?”

The USTA’s plans for the park include the creation of a new grandstand stadium, as well as new courts, parking facilities, and a rejuvenated Louis Armstrong stadium. At the heart of the controversy surrounding the project lies a 0.68 acre chunk of Flushing Meadows Corona Park which the tennis nonprofit claims is necessary for its expansion.

Not so, claimed the group gathering in front of the park’s National Tennis Center, saying the USTA’s own draft environmental impact statement says the expansion can be done without the additional park acreage.

“Instead of treating the land they’re given as a gift, the USTA continues to want more,” said New York City Park Advocates’ Geoff Croft. “We don’t need city planning to rubber stamp this, which they will most likely do.”

The plan initially did not include the replacement of the parkland, though USTA Chief Operating Office Danny Zausner in recent public outings said replacement parkland is being explored.

“Our goal is to continue to be a good steward of the Park and a good neighbor and community partner," Zausner said in a statement after the rally. "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 being mulled for the park. A proposed 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium has been eyed for the current site of the Pool of Industry 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.

“Even if this is the smallest of the three, you're still taking away parkland,” Avella said. “No matter how much money you give back, you can't equate that with the lost parkland.”

Queens Civic Congress President Richard Hellenbrecht came forward saying the group was throwing its weight behind Save Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a collective of residents and civics standing in uniform opposition to all three projects slated for the park.

“Parkland is precious,” Hellenbrecht said. “It's historical and we need to keep it that way.”

The USTA’s proposal is the last item on the CPC’s agenda for Wednesday morning. 

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