By Anna Gustafson
West Side Tennis Club members voted down a proposal last week to sell their stadium, which once housed the US Open, to developers.
Club members were split down the middle last Thursday, 123-123, on the plan by the Forest Hills-based Cord Meyer Development Corp. to turn the stadium into luxury apartments. The plan needed two-thirds support from the club’s approximately 290 voting members.
“Cord Meyer Development Co. is deeply disappointed in the outcome of the vote by the West Side Tennis Club,” Cord Meyer said in a statement. “We continue to believe that our proposal was both beneficial financially to the West Side Tennis Club and fulfilled a desire to save the historic structure while providing for future residents of the community.”
Cord Meyer had said it would pay about $9 million to purchase the 2.5 acres on which the stadium stands. The iconic but dilapidated stadium housed the US Open from 1915 to 1977, and club members said they were entertaining selling the 15,000-seat site because the club has sunk into debt.
WSTC President Ken Parker did not return a phone call for comment, although he did tell The Wall Street Journal that he was “not pleased” with the result and thought the members “made a mistake.”
The vote was so contentious that an independent entity had to come in to count the ballots, according to board member and Forest Hills resident Christine Schott. She noted that members suspected the vote would not favor the plan when neither Cord Meyer representatives nor the stadium committee chairman were present at last Thursday’s meeting.
Schott said the question now is what members will do with the stadium. She said she has spoken to a number of organizations that have expressed interest in the stadium, including the New York Philharmonic, which Schott said has said it could use the stadium for its summer concert series. The International Tennis Hall of Fame has offered its help, Schott said, and the city Landmarks Preservation Commission is exploring the feasibility of landmarking the site.
Queens legislators welcomed the news that club members had not thrown their support behind plans for development.
“My neighbors and I are gratified by the decision of the members of the West Side Tennis Club to reject the proposal to sell development rights to the historic stadium,” U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said. “This will give us all a chance to take a step back, take a deep breath and explore the best way forward to preserve this iconic site while respecting the rights of the club members. This is good news.”
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said she and other lawmakers will speak with the Landmarks Preservation commissioner about landmarking the stadium.
“My concern also goes along with the stability of the tennis stadium,” Koslowitz said. “When we had a tour of it, we had to wear hard hats, which says to me this may not be so safe.”
A number of people had rallied around the idea of preserving the stadium, including Rego Forest Preservation Council President Michael Perlman.
“Disney-esque condos would have torn the heart out of Forest Hills,” Perlman said. “Mixed use creative revitalization would yield a greater economic return in the long run and may feature tennis matches, concerts, weddings, exhibits, school trips, charity events, and music and arts festivals. It has the potential to be a 21st century family destination, bring our communities closer together, boost tourism, convey historic pride, educate our children and help local businesses through tough economic times,” Perlman said.
Forest Hills resident Drake Ian Michell, who runs the Edge of the City blog about his neighborhood, called the vote against the development “great news.”
“The stadium is by far our community’s most well-known landmark and the fact that it has been saved from the bulldozers is a victory for those who oppose the rampant destruction of iconic, historic structures in New York City,” Michell said. “My blog was opposed to the sale of the stadium to developers from the beginning. It was a short-sighted idea that would have resulted in some very narrow local interests walking away with a profit at the expense of everyone else in the city.”
Like Perlman, Michell said he hopes to use the stadium for concerts, theater or possibly a tennis museum or farmer’s market.
Besides hosting tennis matches, the stadium has been the site of a number of concerts by groups including The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” concert film. Portions of the 2001 Wes Anderson film “The Royal Tenenbaums” were shot there.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.