A lawsuit filed against Forest Hills Stadium is calling for the operators to stop holding concerts at the historic open-air venue, citing a deterioration in the quality of life for nearby residents.
The Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, a board that represents 900 properties on 175 acres, filed suit in July 2023 against West Side Tennis Club, which leased the stadium to Tiebreaker Productions until 2034. The lawsuit alleges that the venue’s concerts are excessively loud, causing nearby homes to vibrate and disturb residents late into the evening.
The FHGC complaint has the backing of several residents, 15 of which filed affidavits in support. Their qualms center around a reduction in their quality of life as the number of concerts increased. This past 2023 season, there were a record of 30 shows held at the stadium. Some residents, who provided affidavits in support to the suit, also complain that concertgoers are trespassing on their properties often to urinate, or have thrown up in their building’s vestibule.
Among those who are seeking to bring an end to shows at the stadium—or at least reduce the number each season—are board members from Tennis View Apartments, who signed an affidavit in support of the FHGC suit. Residents of the complex, which includes two apartment buildings on Burns Street leading up to the entrance of the stadium, argue they bear the brunt of the inconveniences. For instance, their street gets closed down and barricades go up on concert and festival days resulting in thousands of attendees passing the building to enter the stadium conveniently.
But some residents at the Tennis View Apartments, who cherish the concerts in their backyard despite inconveniences, say that they were not informed prior to their board backing the lawsuit. They are unhappy that the board signed an affidavit in their name.
“There are some people that really don’t like concerts, and they’re acting for themselves and not for the majority, because the majority of our building was never asked. We were never given the option of whether to join the lawsuit or not,” said Jillian Grancaric, a former board member of TVA. “We should have been surveyed. And we should have just been given a heads up of the board’s plans to take this action.”
But the operators of the stadium say that the noise complaints are unjustified, citing that when the stadium was renovated, it was designed in a way that minimizes the flow of noise to their neighbors. They also say that since concerts resumed, they’ve consistently offered perks as a show of respect to their neighbors.
Mike Luba, who helps manage the stadium and is credited with resurrecting the historic venue 2013, says that he has made consistent efforts to counter the inconveniences faced by Burns Street residents, recognizing that their day-to-day activities can be disrupted when a show is taking place.
His efforts to placate complaining residents involved offering several free tickets per household to virtually every show. He would also host and pay for an annual barbecue for TVA residents inside the stadium. But this past season, the barbecue was not held given the tensions that emerged following the lawsuit.
The stadium also would shell out $5,000 per show to FHGC at the end of the concert season. The payout totaled $150,000 last season, with 30 shows on the lineup, a recent record. But according to the suit, the FHGC is seeking a significantly higher payout.
Residents only found out that the TVA board joined the lawsuit through an email that was sent out to the building at the end of January.
The email read, “Effective immediately, the board will no longer accept or manage the distribution of tickets to events at Forest Hill stadium,” citing the legal action taken. It went on to say that “the number of concerts has increased significantly over the past two seasons, while perks and accommodations that we receive have been reduced and we do not see any reason for this trend to reverse.”
But some residents, as well as Luba, say that the portrayal that the perks were revoked is inaccurate. They say that the board, which is composed of five people, chose to stop accepting the perks to strengthen their argument in court.
Keith Engel, the president of board of directors at TVA, says that they stopped accepting perks such as free concert tickets and the annual barbecue for local residents “on principle” in his affidavit.
The stadium is arguing that FHGC is engaging in extortion by asking for a significantly larger payout per concert, and fails to consider the local residents who enjoy having the concerts in their neighborhood, as well as the traffic it brings to local business owners.
Prior to the 2023 season, the stadium handled all operations which involved traffic flow, guiding concert goers to the stadium, setting up barricades to prevent entrance to residences and clean up sweeps post concerts.
The operations, in which the NYPD would assist with, were mainly along Burns Street which allows attendees quick access point just minutes from public transportation. While the street is privately owned by the FHGC, since concerts resumed the stadium has had free reign in allowing its staff to ensure that the attendees are safe, and don’t disturb the TVA residents.
Despite thousands of people walking by her building on concert nights, Grancaric says that there were virtually no issues prior to the 2023 season.
“We had no issues for nine years,” noted Luba, adding that hundreds of security guards and three rounds of cleaning crews ran like a well oiled machine.
But right before the first major show of the 2023 season, FHGC sent a letter to the NYPD threatening to cut off public access to the stadium from Burns Street, which is technically a private street under their ownership.
They suggested an alternate route via Yellowstone Boulevard and Austin Street, which would force concertgoers to walk an additional mile from public transportation stops and further increase congestion to the already crowded corridors.
The stadium filed an injunction in court to block the move, and a judge sided with their desire to maintain their operations. The concert season carried on but with the FHCG now in charge of operations, with no prior experience and more pressure on the NYPD to keep things in order.
In their suit, the FHGC said that as a condition for using Burns they want $100,000 each for the first 20 concerts of the season and $200,000 for each subsequent concert. It would result in a sum of approximately $4 million for the season. They also requested that they hire their own security along Burns, without relying on the stadium.
“The draft agreement was an exercise in extortion, proving that FHGC has no legitimate interest in preventing any alleged nuisance from the concerts, but instead seeks to collect millions of dollars from the concerts for its own benefit,” read the countersuit.
One Burns Street resident, who sits on the TVA board and was chair of the concert committee, said that her disturbance with the increase of concerts in the past year led her to start a petition. In Irina Vovsha’s affidavit, she said she gathered 250 signatures from residents who say they were also unhappy with the increase in the number of concerts this past season.
A resident of Dartmouth St, Lawrence Perlstein, who has lived in his home for decades said that in the 1960s, there were only 10-15 concerts per year.
“But the more than 30 concerts held at the stadium in 2023 is like nothing I have ever seen and it is devastating our community,” said Perlstein in his affidavit.
But even before the increase, he says he spent more than $40,000 putting in modern noise attenuating windows and adding insulation to the house, but only in “marginally improved conditions” created by noise from the concerts.
Many others cited the increase in concerts, which brings more noise filled nights, as their main gripe with the stadium.
“The current conditions cannot continue and we genuinely fear that if the Tennis Club and its concert promoter have their way, the number of concerts will only increase from the more than 30 held last summer,” said Engel. “We are greatly concerned that these concerts, as they erode the quality of life in TVA and the surrounding community, will also diminish the value of TVA residents’ apartments.”
According to 311 records, dozens of noise complaints have been filed on concert nights. But residents also say that the noise starts early on in the day due to sound checks and rehearsals.
The stadium also faces a second suit, filed by the Concerned Citizens of Forest Hills, calling for the stadium to reduce the volume and stay in line with the city’s noise code. They also ask that concerts for the 2024 season are halted until a plan is enacted. Unlike the FHGC suit, it does not ask for concerts to cease.
In his affidavit, Douglas J. Gilbert, co-founder of Concerned Citizens of Forest Hills, says that the noise and vibrations are “extraordinarily disruptive” in his Dartmouth Street home. Acknowledging that he contributed 311 complaints, he added that lightbulb sockets loosened from the vibrations in his affidavit.
But not all residents are bothered by the increase in concerts, or the noise that surrounds their home on concert nights. Especially those who reside on Burns Street and have been able to attend concerts for free steps away from their home.
“I’m not bothered by the current amount of concerts because I feel like the trade off is amazing,” said Grancaric. “We are very lucky to live in a situation that we live in.“
Luba, who believes that those opposed to the concerts would rather see a condominium go up in the place of the stadium he worked to revive, has spent a hefty sum on legal fees as a top law firm was acquired to preserve the concerts.
“The irony of the lawsuit is that the only way we have to pay for the lawsuit is by adding concerts,” he said. “I’m open to anything reasonable and rational, that’s in good faith.”
A conference before a judge is scheduled for Feb. 21, where the case will be discussed and the next steps will be decided.
The stadium’s recently released 2024 schedule features just fourteen shows, with three already sold out.