The United States Tennis Association won its battle today, earning city council approval for an expansion that will require the annexation of an additional .68 acres of city parkland, to be added to the USTA’s 46-acre footprint in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The USTA was not, however, able to claim victory without suffering a few injuries on the court.
To secure city council approval for the alienation of public parkland, the USTA has agreed to pay $10.05 million that will go towards capital improvements to Flushing Meadows and help start an Alliance that will, it is hoped, transform the neglected greenspace by harnessing private donations.
Prior the agreement, the USTA had not publicly committed to any additional payments. Privately, the organization offered to pay as little as $2 million, according to Crain’s. Moreover, it made only a half-hearted effort to replace the alienated parkland with tennis courts that it would retain use of during the U.S. Open.
USTA’s apparent unwillingness to budge before the 11th hour was a source of puzzlement to some, particularly given the fact that the plan looked unlikely to pass without the support of local councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who threatened to block the expansion if the tennis center refused to contribute to the park’s upkeep. (The $5oo,ooo that the tennis center pays annually in rent goes to the city’s general fund.)
“I am proud my community has gotten engaged and had a voice in this process,” Ms. Ferraras said in a statement released after the vote. “I look forward to working with the USTA on improving Flushing Meadows.”
Ultimately, the measure passed 47-1.
“We are very pleased that the City Council passed the legislation,” David A. Haggerty, Chairman of the Board, CEO and President of the USTA said in a statement. “The updates and improvements to the NTC will enhance the usage of the tennis center for local residents, visitors and professional and recreational tennis players while also preserving the US Open Tennis Championships as a world renowned event.”
The USTA’s $10 million commitment will funnel $5 million toward capital projects, with another $5 million going toward maintenance and programming, with $350,000 of the maintenance funds being allotted each year for the first three years, slated to begin in January 2014.
For parks advocates, one of the most important features of the agreement was the establishment of a parks alliance.
“We strongly support Council Member Ferreras’ proposal for a public-private partnership, or Alliance, for the park. We’re really pleased that today’s agreement will basically jumpstart the Alliance and that the city has agreed to establish it,” citywide advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks wrote in an email to The Observer. “All the other major parks in the city have P3s in some form and Flushing Meadows needs one to get to the level of care Queens residents and park-goers deserve.”
As for the practice of using Flushing Meadows lawns as defacto parking lots during events (a practice that is understandly unpopular with the local community), even with the construction of two new parking structures planned as part of the expansion, the City Council was unable to wring an agreement out of the USTA to stop the practice.
Instead, the USTA agreed to the establishment of an interagency parking taskforce to address the issue, which will meet quarterly for the next ten years. Which sounds to us like a nice way of saying that the USTA will continue parking on lawns for at least the next ten years.