Reversing course, the USTA announces it will replace alienated parkland
The United States Tennis Association has accounced that it intends to replace the parkland it wants for its tennis center expansion after all.
Today, a U.S.T.A. official said that in exchange for the additional .68 acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park it wants for the expansion of the National Tennis Center where it hosts the U.S. Open every year, it will return 1.56 acres of its existing national tennis center to the public.
"At the outset of the project, the City suggested that park improvements would result in a more meaningful degree of public benefit than an in-kind replacement for the 0.68 acres that is proposed for alienation. However, understanding that every inch of parkland is precious and after seeking input and recommendations from the local Queens communities and elected officials, the U.S.T.A., in consultation with the Parks Department, decided it was in the best interest of all parties to propose a parkland swap,” said Daniel Zausner, chief operating officer of the National Tennis Center, in a statement accompany the organization's press release.
According to that release, "The parcels include 0.75 acres of passive open space accessible to any member of the public and 0.81 acres of space for active recreation containing five tennis courts."
The U.S.T.A. hinted that this was the course it was planning to take at a community meeting back in April.
The U.S.T.A.'s announcement amounts to a concession on behalf of both itself and the Bloomberg administration.
Inititally, the city supported the U.S.T.A.'s proposal to take more of Queens' largest park, in exchange for financial compensation.
That ran counter to city precedent, which holds that whenever a piece of public parkland is given over to a private entity, that entity must replace the parkland with new open space elsewhere.
The U.S.T.A. didn't want to do that, and it made the novel argument that it didn't have to, because even though the tennis center is surrounded by gates, it is in fact "publicly accessible," and therefore already open space.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area in question, hailed the agreement, saying, in a quote included in the release, that, "It is the right thing to do."
Ferreras has also argued that in order for the tennis center expansion to move forward, the U.S.T.A. should commit to ongoing funding for a Flushing Meadows Corona Park conservancy.
The release included no mention of that, and Ferreras' spokeswoman said the U.S.T.A. has yet to inform the councilwoman whether they intend to support a conservancy.
I emailed the U.S.T.A. to find out if it had any plans to fund a conservancy and will update if I hear back.
"We are pleased that the U.S.T.A. has agreed to replace parkland because our community has needs green space," said Joseph McKellar, executive director of Faith in New York and a member of the Fairness Coalition of Queens, in a statement. "This is a good first step but there is still much more work to be done. We would like the U.S.T.A. to stop parking cars on grass and we believe that the U.S.T.A. has an obligation to make an annual contribution towards the parks maintenance."