USTA Gets Expansion Plan Approval, Must Give Back to Community
Game, set, match, for the US Tennis Association's plans to super-size the home of the US Open. New York's City Council approved the plans for the Billie Jean King Tennis Center after a year of negotiations between the USTA, the local councilmember, Julissa Ferreras and community groups that were peeved at the USTA's desire to poach another .68 acres of land from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
It's been a game of Whack-A-Mole for protectors of the sprawling, weedy, unsung park. Developers are scurrying all over the 1,255 acre site, seeing it not as the green lungs of a community hemmed in by several highways and an airport, but as undeveloped real e$tate.
Major League Soccer wants -- wanted -- to seize more than 13 acres so they could plunk down, on the Fountain of the Planets, a 25,000 seat stadium and parking lot. In exchange, the newly-formed New York City Football Club would pay for the creation of a park at the site of a blighted old air strip several miles, and demographic light years away from, the Latino/South Asian/Chinese neighborhoods nearest Flushing Meadows. The negative (surprise!) headlines about this eyebrow-raising "deal" caused the NYC FC to reconsider, mumbling that it was "reviewing other sites" around the city.
One councilman, Leroy Comrie, cheekily suggested the Club -- co-owned by the New York Yankees -- look to property around the new-ish Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Whack!
Name me another business in New York that makes that kind of money and doesn't have to pay taxes or real rent." -- Will Sweeney, Fairness Coalition of Queens
But wait, here's another mole (or weasel; think of the Weasel who was always salivating over Foghorn Leghorn's beefy drumstick). The city's Economic Development Corporation wants to give parkland -- now mostly PARKING land near Citifield, the ball park of the Mets -- to two developers for "Willets West," a 1.4 million square foot mall.
Yes, Haters. The city's largest mall....in a park. That's why I head to the Great Outdoors. For end-of-summer sales and the smell of food court deep fat fryers.
And then, popping up across the Long Island Railroad tracks from Willets West, was the USTA, and its proposed land grab.
Here's how the group Fairness Coalition of Queens described it:
The United States Tennis Association seeks to construct two new tennis stadiums, the alienation of additional parkland, and building two parking garages while drastically hampering access to the park by moving a road. The USTA does not intend to pay for the land nor would it replace the parkland.
Well, that's changed. Under the deal green-lighted by the Council Wednesday, the USTA will get that parkland. But it will commit $10 million toward maintenance of the much-used park, help it establish a nonprofit group, like the ones that, through private fundraising, keep Central Park and the High Line lush and pretty, create an annual jobs fair for Queens residents and reach out to local businesses to help them benefit from the US Open.
Crains New York Business had reported that local residents and businesses have felt that the tennis center "turns its back" on Flushing Meadow - Corona Park, until its lawns are overrun by tennis fans and used for parking. That includes members of the Fourth Estate, like me, who park among the trees just beyond the practice courts to the west of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"They make hundreds of millions of dollars a year, they don't pay any property taxes, they pay a miniscule rent of $400,000 a year and they're based in Westchester," Fairness Coalition's Will Sweeney told Crains. "Name me another business in New York that makes that kind of money and doesn't have to pay taxes or real rent."
How about Goldman Sachs? But I digress.
The Times Ledger of Queens reports the annual payout to the city is more like $2.5 million. It detailed the hard bargaining done by Councilwoman Ferreras to pull concessions out of the USTA.
The approval of the expansion was seen by some as a foregone conclusion, but Ferreras had one major bargaining chip to play: Wednesday was the last day the Council could consider the measure. If lawmakers voted against the plan, the USTA would have had to start the months-long application process over again.
Another concession wrung out of the USTA: it will free up courts on its eastern edge for the public. I hope what they mean by this is the New York City parks-supporting, tennis-permit holding public, and not the public that can currently use its outer grounds courts for $46 an hour and up.
"We're not under any illussion that we've won and it's over," Joseph McKellar, of the faith-based group, Faith in New York, told the Times. "It sends them a message. If you're going to build in our community, you have to engage in our community."