By Joe Anuta
The United States Tennis Association hopes to expand its Queens facility by less than an acre into Flushing Meadows Corona Park, but is seeking to distance itself from other contentious projects planned for the borough’s largest greenspace.
The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is currently a 42.6-acre site that hosts the annual US Open, which nets the city nearly $800 billion in economic benefits, according to the USTA, including a yearly rent payment of about $250 million.
The association is currently in the process of trying to acquire 0.68 acres of parkland and include it in its lease, which would basically take the space occupied by three lanes of an internal roadway and pedestrian path used by the city Parks Department and parkgoers, which runs along the tennis center’s southern border.
Development in the park has come under increasing scrutiny in the last few months, with the news that the Willets Point redevelopment project would place a mall on what is technically parkland — now a Citi Field parking lot — and the proposed Major League Soccer stadium in place of a nearby fountain.
“I think it is important for us not to be confused with those other projects,” said Dan Zausner, managing director of the National Tennis Center. “We have a very strong proven track record.”
Zausner recently sat down with TimesLedger Newspapers to discuss the rising prominence of tennis across the world, the need for New York City to remain competitive in a global market and to tout the benefits afforded to Queens by having the tennis center in its midst.
USTA hopes to move its Grandstand stadium from the northeast corner of the park to the southwest, and shift a set of practice courts along the southern edge even farther south by about 30 feet, both to facilitate foot traffic flow.
It also wants to renovate the Louis Armstrong Stadium and build a viewing platform between two sets of courts. In total, the renovations would enable an extra 10,000 visitors a day to attend the US Open for the entirety of the roughly two-week event. The renovation plans would take place within center’s existing footprint and the sliver added to the bottom.
And according to Zausner, those renovations are crucial for the USTA to keep up with other high-profile tennis events like Wimbledon and the Australia and French opens, which have spent a combined $1 billion in recent improvements.
But cities like Abu Dhabi, Madrid and Shanghai are also building facilities that will put them on par with the current grand slam venues.
“In five to 10 years, it’s not unthinkable that a player could choose between playing in some tournament much closer to home and getting paid much more of a guarantee than having to come to New York and work his way through two weeks of matches to get to that final round and make the big payday,” Zausner said. “These are real legitimate concerns for us.”
But the USTA is aware of space constraints, Zausner said, meaning it would not be feasible to seek expansion any further in the future.
It hopes to finish the approval process to acquire the sliver of parkland by the latter part of 2014 and in the process would have to relocate a park road that is used to funnel traffic to the Grand Central Parkway after New York Mets games.
While protesters have spoken out against the other developments in the area, Zausner points to the fact that the USTA not only opens its facilities to the public year round when the Open is not in session, but provides tennis programming for the area’s youth and hosts all manner of tournaments throughout the year, in addition to serving as home court for college athletic programs.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.