The news was good for the city, but not so good for the landmark tennis club where Mayor Michael Bloomberg once proudly announced plans for the Olympic Village project. Five years after that ambitious project evaporated, the city has acquired the same land for a massive middle-income housing project, forcing Long Island City’s Tennisport to close its doors July 31.
“We didn’t know about the press conference,” Tennisport Vice President Andrea Botur said of Bloomberg’s announcement last Thursday.
The state condemned the Tennisport property in 2002, forcing the Botur family to sell it to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, developers of the Queens West project that transformed the waterfront from factories to condominiums. The PA then gave the southern portion of its land to the city Economic Development Corp. as it spun off the Hunters Point South area as a separate development.
But Tennisport hung on as the plans evolved, ceding portions of its property to Queens West for office use in return for extensions on its tenancy.
“You never say you’re done,” Botur said. “My dad is 87 and he’s still fighting. We’ve been looking at property for years knowing this was eventually going to happen. Now we’re still looking, but it’s almost cost prohibitive to build tennis as a private entrepreneur in the city.”
Freddie Botur started building the club in 1972 at the site of the old Daily News printing plant. It opened in 1974 and operated for about a decade before developers began eyeing the waterfront property. Andrea Botur said the club had operated under the specter of sudden closure for more than a decade.
“If they were going to warehouse it, that was silly. We were going to pay rent,” said Andrea Botur. “When they were ready to go, they could just huff, puff and blow this house down.”
The club has about 500 members and many noteworthy visitors, Andrea Botur said, noting tennis dignitaries Virginia Wade and John and Patrick McEnroe played at the site as well as actors like Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford and Liam Neeson.
The club’s members praised its large central fireplace and the friendly staff.
“It really was a jewel in the city, particularly in Long Island City, which is an area with a lot of character,” said Manhattan resident Jeff Ravetz, who has been a member since 1987. “It sat there as this little haven for a lot of people. You walked in and the stress of the city kind of rolled off your shoulders.”
Manhattan resident Stacey Locker, who has played at the club for 12 years, said she was surprised to learn of the club’s impending closure.
“It was like a cat, it had nine lives,” she said. “Every time we heard speculation about a closing, it survived. I think none of us really believed it was going to happen. I think that the political machine this time won.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cn
©2009 Community News Group
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