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USTA expansion means spoils for Queens park

Expansion plans for the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center include relocating the Grandstand Stadium (bottom l.) and refurbishing the Louis Armstrong Stadium (top r.). Rendering courtesy USTA
TimesLedger Newspapers

The United States Tennis Association’s plan to expand its 42-acre facility in Flushing Meadows Corona Park could mean more perks for the borough’s largest green space, although it is unclear whether a state law will require the USTA to foot the bill.

Major undertakings in a proposed makeover for the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center include the replacement of one stadium built in the mid-1960s and the relocation of another.

But rebuilding the 10,500-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium and moving the 6,000-seat Grandstand Stadium requires more parkland to be legally taken away and authorized for development.

The last time portions of Flushing Meadows were set aside for commercial use was in 1993, when the center expanded to accommodate Arthur Ashe Stadium, according to project documents. And that expansion triggered a law requiring the USTA to fork over millions into a fund. The interest generated from the fund has been used to upgrade the skating rink and pool, according to the city.

A state law governing the use of parkland states that any new lease drawn up to rent the land to the USTA must establish “a fund by the [National Tennis Center] to be used by the city, with the approval of the [city Parks] commissioner after consultation with the borough president, for park improvement purposes.”

And in this case, a new lease is required to rent the 0.76 acres of parkland that will be absorbed into the tennis center, according to an environmental assessment statement filed with the city.

“It is expected that improvements in Flushing Meadows Corona Park would be provided in connection with the alienation of up to 0.76 acres of park land,” the document also stated.

But a spokesman for the city Parks Department said it is still unclear what compensation will be coming to Queens since new legislation will need to be written.

“That process will determine what compensation is necessary,” the spokesman said.

But a spokesman from USTA said the association will not be setting up a fund this time around.

“Originally with the 1993 funding, USTA contributed $8 million for park improvement purposes,” a spokesman said. “For this alienation that we are asking for, we will not need to put in money to a general fund.”

As part of the expansion, the Grandstand Stadium will be moved from the northeast corner of the park to the southwest corner, and amenities like tennis courts and a park service road will be shuffled around to accommodate the reconfiguration.

But the USTA’s plans were not all good news to community leaders gathered at a Queens Borough Hall meeting July 18.

The plan, called the National Tennis Center Strategic Vision, also calls for two parking garages to be built on existing parking lots. The two- and three-story garages will increase the parking capacity on the two parcels from 300 to 793 — a much-needed jump since about 30 percent of patrons commute from outside the New York metro area, according to the USTA.

But Community Board 7 Chairman Gene Kelty wanted the association to focus more on promoting mass transportation and groused that while Queens is home to more and more large city developments, it does not get its share of cultural funding to compensate.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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