BY STEVEN J. FERRARI
As Community Boards throughout Queens prepare to vote on the proposed expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a coalition has formed, asking the organization to change its ways.
On March 8, the Fairness Coalition of Queens joined elected officials and community leaders to protest what they called the “negative impacts” the USTA has on Flushing Meadows Corona Park and surrounding communities.
“For our community in Queens, the USTA is nothing more than a gated community walled off from local residents,” Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road NY, said. “We are deeply concerned that an expansion of the USTA will just lead to even more problems for the community.”
The USTA’s proposed expansion includes the construction of two new stadiums to replace the Louis Armstrong stadium in the same location and the Grandstand in a new location at the southwest corner of the tennis center site.
The proposal to expand the tennis center includes the loss of .68 acres of parkland that the City has determined the organization does not need to replace. According to a statement from the USTA, most of the .68 acres is an existing asphalt road that will remain open to the public 11 months out of the year.
Members of the community also expressed disappointment that the US Open causes parts of Flushing Meadows Corona Park to be shut off to the public during the event.
Joel Martinez, a member of Make the Road NY and a professional marathon runner, said he trains at the park, but during the US Open, he is routinely told to find a new route to run.
Speaking through an interpreter, Martinez said police stationed at the park would tell him he was not allowed to run his usual route during the US Open.
“If they approve this expansion, what happens to the park?” he asked. “The park is my home.”
The Fairness Coalition of Queens has actively protested a number of proposals for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, including a proposed soccer stadium and an entertainment and retail complex surrounding Citi Field because of the loss of parkland the proposals would cause.
The Rev. Darrel DeCosta, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Corona, said many members of his congregation use the park. These proposals, he said, would take that away from them.
“We need to hear the voice of the community,” he said. “It’s not just about profit, it’s also about nourishing the soul of the community.”
The loss of parkland was just one of the many issues the Fairness Coalition raised in a recently-released report, titled “Double Fault.” Officials expressed disappointment with the USTA over the tax breaks the City has provided to the facility with minimal returns to the surrounding communities.
Theo Oshiro of Make the Road NY stressed that many of the visitors who attend the annual US Open in August do not visit local establishments around the center.
“There’s really no lasting socio-economic change from these events,” Oshiro said. “Folks rarely use the businesses around the tennis center.”
While the USTA has also received various tax breaks and subsidies, the coalition noted that most of the USTA’s high-paying jobs are located in the organization’s headquarters in Westchester.
“It’s outrageous that that is allowed to happen,” Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said.
In the wake of the Fairness Coalition’s report, the USTA released a statement arguing that the project has received “strong support” from area businesses and the surrounding communities.
“The deceitful accusations … aim to discredit the USTA’s proposed enhancement plan for the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center,” the statement read.
The statement argues that the tennis center is open daily to the general public and even welcomes schools community tennis programs throughout the year. While members of the Fairness Coalition stated that hourly rates to use the courts were out of line with what residents of the surrounding community were capable of paying, the USTA said that was untrue.
“The vast majority of NTC patrons access courts at fees well below the listed rates,” the organization said in a statement. “The USTA sponsors numerous programs and camps whose participants get deeply discounted or free court time.”
The USTA also addressed the claim that taxpayers have provided more than $320 million in City bonds for construction, noting that the organization has repaid the bonds with interest of more than $132 million.
“Since 1997, the USTA has invested millions of its own funds into the NTC, and this project will continue that investment.”
Boards Weigh In
As of press time, three Community Boards have weighed in and voted on the USTA’s expansion, with` another three CBs meeting later in the week.
The first board to vote on the topic was Community Board 7, which includes Flushing and Willets Point. The board voted in favor of the proposed expansion by a vote of 30-6 on March 11. The vote came one week after the board’s Parks Committee recommended approval with conditions.
The USTA touted the victory earlier this week.
“We are very pleased that Community Board 7 has voiced its support for our proposed enhancements,” Daniel Zausner, chief operation officer of the NTC, said. “Our goal is to continue to be a good steward of the park and a good neighbor and community partner as we have been for the past 35 years.”
Two other Community Board votes did not turn out in the USTA’s favor.
Community Board 9, which represents Kew Gardens, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven, voted against recommending the expansion, also on March 11, with 20 votes for, 22 against and one abstention.
On March 12, Community Board 4, which encompasses Corona and Elmhurst, voted unanimously to oppose the expansion.
Community Boards 6 and 8 also approved the proposal on March 13. CB 6 voted 21-6 in favor, while CB 8 voted 26-8. Community Board 3 was scheduled to vote March 14, after this issue went to press.
Once the Community Boards have weighed in, the proposal will then go before Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the State Legislature.
Reach Managing Editor Steven J. Ferrari at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 122, or firstname.lastname@example.org.