Activists Oppose USTA Expansion Proposal
Civic groups and elected officials in Queens are volleying back at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) amid plans to expand its footprint in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The Fairness Coalition of Queens released a report last Thursday, Mar. 8, detailing the impact the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has made on the park, nearby communities and the city finances.
The report, titled “Double Fault,” charges that the proposed expansion, which includes a 6,000-seat tennis/ concert venue and two parking garages, would create more problems for the park’s neighbors and perpetuate a bad investment on the city’s part.
The project alienates an additional 0.68 acres of parkland, and the USTA would not have to offset the encroachment with greenspace elsewhere, it has been reported. The association’s current footprint is 42 acres.
The USTA is a not-for-profit organization that acts as the national governing body for the sport of tennis.
The Fairness Coalition of Queens is a watchdog group that works to ensure changes made to Flushing Meadows Corona Park are done with community input.
A question of public policy
The coalition’s report claims the land use agreement between the city and the USTA has the city losing out on millions in potential revenue.
According to the report, while the tennis center was funded by $322,025,000 in city bonds, the USTA pays only $500,000 a year to rent the land and less than onepercent of its nearly $200 million annual revenue goes back to the city in the form of revenue-sharing-a gain of about $2.5 million per year for the city.
The report also found much of the city’s proceeds go to bond repayments, and it is difficult to show any direct link between the revenue the city pulls in and improved services in the areas bordering Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
A news release from the USTA on Monday, Mar. 11, which calls many of the coalition’s statements “false and misleading,” stated the USTA must repay every penny with interest. To date, interest paid exceeds $132 million, according to the release.
According to the Fairness Coalition, the USTA pays no property taxes, because it is designated a “parkland,” but the report claims the center’s neighbors lack access and local businesses aren’t benefitting from the patrons who do frequent the courts.
The coalition’s report states that the USTA doesn’t just alienate greenspace- it alienates local residents.
With gates and court fees that are between two- and four-times the rate at New York City courts, the tennis center is functionally inaccessible for the working-class neighborhoods surrounding Flushing Meadows Corona Park, according to the report.
The USTA, however, countered, “the majority of [the tennis center’s] patrons access courts at fees well below the listed rate.”
Patrons with an NYC Parks tennis permit can access courts for $11 an hour. Additionally, there are 11 outdoor courts built by the USTA and run by the Parks Department that residents can use for free with a city tennis permit, according to the release.
While the USTA billed the center as an engine for jobs and local growth, the coalition’s report charges only 127 jobs materialized and that many were created indirectly or only offered part-time employment.
The tennis association has rebutted that claim, saying it created 50 full-time and 35 part-time permanent jobs-more than half of which are staffed by Queens residents.
The USTA’s highest-paid jobs are located in Westchester County, raising concerns that NYC taxpayers are subsidizing jobs upstate, as noted in the coalition’s report.
Though the planned expansion would net the USTA an incremental boundary increase, the coalition has raised concerns about whether the association is acting as a good steward of Queens’ flagship greenspace.
According to the coalition’s report, the park is a flood zone that helps mitigate excess ground water after heavy rains, and expansion would create more impervious surface and reduce absorption.
The coalition charged that the USTA encourages thousands of motorists to park on green space, destroying grass and other flora, and the expansion would require the removal of more than 400 mature trees, including state-listed endangered species.
The USTA has refuted both claims, saying that NYPD controls parking and that most trees are being moved, and only 40 trees will be “lost.” All 40 trees are to be replaced according to the Parks Department’s tree restitution formula, and the associtaion claims no endangered trees will be harmed, according to its news release.
Additionally, the plan includes an eight megawatt diesel generator that would operate in the park.
The USTA stated in its press release that the generator is temporary and will only be used during the U.S. Open. The generator adheres to EPA and City air quality standards, the relesase said.
The full report from the Fairness Coalition of Queens can be obtained at www.jhgreen.org/fmcp/RGB-Double Fault.pdf.