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CB 7 vote may hinge on cash

Members of Community Board 7 sit at a table and hash out benefits they would like to see, should an expansion proposal by the United States Tennis Association come to fruition. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

Community Board 7 named its price for approving the expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s facility in Flushing Meadows Corona Park Monday night.

The board’s Parks Committee voted to recommend approval of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center expansion on the condition that USTA fork over $15 million for capital improvements to Flushing Meadows and maintain a $300,000 annual maintenance fund, although the conditions amount to more of a wishlist.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said CB 7 Vice Chairman Charles Apelian, who brought the motion to the floor.

The full board will subsequently vote to approve or disapprove. The borough president and the City Planning Commission will also get to weigh in on the proposal, but those votes are advisory and ultimately the decision is made by the City Council.

Apelian’s theory highlighted different opinions about how the park should be managed.

Rather than oppose development altogether or ask for replacement parkland for the 0.68 acres that needs to be absorbed into the USTA’s lease, the vice chairman said the six community boards that share the park should get the USTA to pay for upkeep.

There is currently a USTA fund that provides maintenance money for the park, the board learned to its great surprise Monday night. The interest on an $8 million trust account, created by the USTA in the 1900s during its last expansion, has been funding operating costs at the skating rink and swimming pool within the greenspace, according to the city Parks Department.

But the rest of the park is not well-cared for compared to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Central Park in Manhattan. Both those greenspaces get funding from private conservancies.

Apelian suggested the USTA could, in essence, fill the fiscal role of those conservancies.

Activists have taken the opposite view, contending that parkland is sacred ground and communities should not have to trade any of it with developers in order to get basic upkeep. Park maintenance should be provided by the city, according to Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates.

“It’s sickening that the community board is more interested in making deals with private developers than in holding the elected officials accountable for properly funding the park,” he said after attending Monday night’s meeting. “Unfortunately, this was expected, and in keeping with the ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ theme that permeates some boards.”

The CB 7 committee’s motion passed 8-3, although some members who wanted to vote against it were not present.

Committee Chair Kim Ohanian suggested that since the borough president and the Council would likely vote in favor of the plan anyway, the board should at least make its wishes known. The motion also included a long list of requests and benefits for the surrounding communities.

This theory was pushed by Dan Zausner, managing director of the National Tennis Center. At a CB 3 meeting the next night, he said he encouraged boards to vote yes with conditions so the association could gauge the community’s desires and figure out what benefits to include, although a final decision might not come until just prior to the Council vote, according to Parks. The CB 3 committee recommended its full board vote no.

“Our goal is to continue to be good stewards of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. To that end, we are actively engaged with all community stakeholders,” Zausner said in a statement..

The matter will go before the full boards next week, with CBs 3, 4, 7 and 8 holding meetings.

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

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