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Bloomberg enters stadium foray

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a town hall meeting in Forest Hills last week he would get in touch with the United States Tennis Association’s president to discuss residents’ concerns about preserving the West Side Tennis Club Stadium that club members are considering selling.

About 30 opponents of a plan to sell the club to a developer turned out to speak to the mayor, who held a town hall-style meeting attended by more than 250 people at Our Lady of Mercy Aug. 31.

“We’re here to ask for your support against tearing down our historic stadium,” said Christine Schott, a Forest Hills resident and member of the West Side club.

West Side Tennis Club members are expected to meet at the end of September to vote on the sale of the stadium, which they have said they are considering because the club, in the prestigious Forest Hills Gardens neighborhood, has sunk into debt. Cord Meyer Development Corp. has proposed keeping the facade of the stadium and turning the inside into about 75 luxury apartments and town homes.

The US Open was held at the stadium from 1915-77, at which time it moved to Flushing Meadows Corona Park because the Forest Hills location had become too small for the event.

“I’d be happy to talk to Lucy Garvin, the USTA’s president,” Bloomberg said.

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden noted the sale of the stadium is “not a zoning issue, but it’s an emotional community issue.”

“It’s the developer’s responsibility to find a use that won’t overburden the community,” Burden said.

While Bloomberg said he would reach out to the USTA, he was not overly optimistic about saving the stadium.

“If I can help with the USTA, fine,” he said. “But if there’s not an economic rationale, there’s not a reason to keep everything.”

Our Lady of Mercy’s basement was packed for the meeting, which was attended by a number of the city’s highest ranking officials, including Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Forest Hills Community and Civic Association President Barbara Stuchinski moderated the event, which ran from about 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Bloomberg praised the NYPD’s efforts to reduce crime in the 112th Precinct.

“Crime in the 112th is down an astonishing amount,” Bloomberg said. “The murder rate in the city is down so low. We are way under 600 murders for nine years in a row this year. That’s never happened in the history of the city. In the ’70s, it was at 2,200 murders a year. Last year it was 460.”

The mayor fielded a number of questions from city residents on topics including jobs, landmarking and the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero.

Jennie Fisher, a former Forest Hills resident who now lives in Manhattan, asked when the city was going to lift its hiring freeze on teachers.

“I graduated in December with a degree in elementary education, but there’s a hiring freeze,” Fisher said. “As a veteran of Iraq, I was lucky enough to have my education paid for, but many of my classmates have loans they have to pay off, and they’re moving. The city is losing great teachers.”

Bloomberg said he does not know when the freeze will end.

“I know Joel Klein would like to hire more teachers, but I’ve told him we don’t have the money,” Bloomberg said.

A man from Rego Park asked why the city had not preserved more institutions in Queens.

“It’s a running joke in Queens that 99 percent of what we want landmarked gets knocked down or destroyed,” the resident said. “You call Landmarks and they never respond. When are we going to wake up and save something, including the stadium, before everything becomes a strip mall?”

Bloomberg did not respond specifically to the question, but he did say Burden has landmarked more places in the city than any of her predecessors.

The mayor was also asked about the proposed mosque within an Islamic center that is expected to be built a couple blocks from Ground Zero.

“The U.S. Constitution gives people the right to pray wherever they want to pray, and that’s what this is all about,” Bloomberg said. “The U.S. government should not be involved in telling people how they pray or where they pray.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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