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Community offers views on tennis stadium proposal

Cord Meyer Development Co.’s proposal to transform the West Side Tennis Club’s stadium in Forest Hills into luxury condominiums received a mixed response from community members last week, with some saying they want to see the stadium landmarked and others backing plans for development.

Forest Hills-based Cord Meyer hopes to transform the 2.5 acres on which the now dilapidated stadium is located into luxury apartments and town homes, according to plans presented by company officials to club members Aug. 10.

Cord Meyer would pay as much as $9 million to develop the stadium, according to members. The plan would create about 75 luxury units but would retain the stadium’s shell.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) on Aug. 11 stood outside the iconic stadium that hosted the U.S. Open for more than six decades and concerts by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan to announce they had sent a letter to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, asking that city officials look into landmarking the stadium.

“The Forest Hills community deserves to know whether landmarking parts or all of the West Side Tennis Stadium are a possibility,” the letter read. “We feel strongly that the commission should conduct a study as to whether landmarking the West Side Tennis Stadium would be in the best interest of the future of the structure.”

While the elected officials said they were not calling for landmarking but rather e study to see if land marking would be feasible, area residents said they wanted to see the stadium preserved and not developed.

“I want the stadium as a landmark,” said Bobbie Jaray, who has lived across the street from stadium for 56 years. “I’d had to see it torn down. It’s amazing, the history that happened here. I’d see the tennis stars walking from the subway to the club. I met Billie Jean King, Stan Smith, and many others.”

Koslowitz criticized the development proposal, saying “it didn’t look that nice to me.”

Others, however, said the development plans were some of the best they had seen proposed for the stadium, which members had considered selling in the mid-1990s. Club members are expected to meet at the end of September to vote on the sale of the stadium, which members have said they are considering because the West Side Tennis Club, located in the prestigious Forest Hills Gardens neighborhood, has sunk into debt.

“I want to think back on the stadium the way it was in its glory, not as a morbid ruin that should no longer be on life support and to let it be remembered by the photos, archives, the memories of the legends who played there, past and present,” Suzan Causey, a tennis club member and Forest Hills resident, wrote in an e-mail. “For this, I do agree with, pending fine tuning, the proposal by Cord Meyer to WSTC.”

Christine Schott, a club member and Forest Hills resident, said she hoped to explore preserving the stadium and is planning to reach out to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the New York Philharmonic to see if they would be interested in using the property. Schott added the Kew Forest School, a private institution in Forest Hills, is interested in moving into the space and starting a tennis academy.

“I want to make sure we’re exploring every opportunity,” Schott said.

Causey, however, said members have explored avenues other than development for the stadium, which she said have failed.

“I proposed, back in the 90s, that we exhaust all possible ideas for the stadium before considering selling,” Causey wrote. “In the meantime the stadium has gone from a dilapidated situation to a dangerous one. It would cost millions of dollars to put it right. We, WSTC, do not have this money… We have sought, over the years, other solutions to acquire the money to fix it, including benefactors, donors, philanthropists, organizations, promoters. In these years none has come back to WSTC with even a modicum of interest.”

WSTC President Ken Parker told The Wall Street Journal he too backs Cord Meyer’s development, which he said would be a “reminder of the past, but it will be put to excellent use.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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