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CB 7 wants more info on USTA expansion

TimesLedger Newspapers

Community Board 7 tabled a vote last week on whether to approve the proposed expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s facility in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, citing the need for more information, including how much money the association is willing to pump into improvements within the greenspace.

Many on the board, including Vice Chairman Charles Apelian, wanted to see how much money the association would be willing to provide for upkeep at the park in exchange for the city giving less than an acre of land to the company.

The USTA is proposing to expand its Billie Jean King Tennis Center by less than an acre to accommodate moving its Grandstand stadium to another location in the center, though the project entails relocating a road onto green space. The USTA also wants to renovate the Louis Armstrong Stadium as part of the plan and shift the location of practice courts to allow for greater pedestrian movement.

The USTA contends the parkland they want to acquire is an unused asphalt strip that acts as a Flushing Meadows interior roadway.

The city Parks Department said the parkland proposed for the expansion would not be replaced, but rather the USTA would fund improvements in Flushing Meadows.

“If you want any chance of an approval, you’re going to have to show dollars and cents,” Apelian said last week.

He and others on the board floated the idea of not only establishing a capital fund to pay for improvements, but also money set aside to pay for upkeep at the park. Apelian suggested establishing a trust where the USTA can keep the maintenance cash, since the money the association currently pays the city goes into the general fund and is not specifically directed at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Other board members wanted to ensure that more residents from the area surrounding the center got annual jobs during the US Open, and floated the idea of rate discounts for people in nearby ZIP codes who want to play on the courts.

In a sometimes heated exchange between the developers and the board, Zausner repeatedly explained that the updates are needed to maintain the facility.

“We are doing this out of necessity,” he said, saying that the stadiums had outlived their useful lives.

Zausner also touted the hundreds of programs the center offers throughout the year that serve about 100,000 people, 42 percent of which are from Queens, and that fact that the center serves as home court for more than 70 area high schools and colleges.

But some board members, including Phil Konigsberg, did not buy USTA’s reasons to expand.

And a contingent of activists who are opposed to giving away parkland for private gain were also at the meeting.

“I sincerely hope this isn’t turning into ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’” said Geoffrey Croft, head of New York City Park Advocates. “It would set a horrific precedent.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is also opposed to all further development on the park, including a planned 13-acre soccer stadium and a 1.4-million-square-foot mall, and announced Tuesday he encouraged the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to review the park for a landmark designation, which could stymie development initiatives in the green space.

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

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