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Tornado tables vote on tennis stadium

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The tornado that devastated the borough and much of Forest Hills last week caused West Side Tennis Club members to postpone a vote to decide whether to sell the club’s stadium to the Cord Meyer Development Co. until Oct. 7, as opposed to the previously scheduled Sept. 23, according to club members.

The decision to push back the vote was made after the storm that brought winds of up to 125 mph through Forest Hills damaged the West Side Tennis Club, which was supposed to host an informational meeting about the vote the night of the storm last Thursday. That meeting has been pushed back to Sept. 30.

“I was at the tennis club when the tornado hit,” said Suzan Causey, a Forest Hills resident and club member. “We lost trees, and a couple of our courts are still out. But, thanks to the tireless efforts of our director of tennis, Bob Ingersole, the senior men’s National Grass Tournament went on the next day, and we still managed to open five clay courts too.”

West Side Tennis Club members have said they are considering selling the historic stadium, which housed the US Open from 1915-77, because the club in the prestigious Forest Hills Gardens neighborhood has sunk into debt. Two-thirds of the club’s 291 voting members need to approve the sale.

Plans by Cord Meyer to pay as much as $9 million to the club to transform the 2.5 acres on which the stadium stands into luxury apartments and town homes have brought both ire and praise from community members, some of whom say the iconic stadium should be preserved while others say the dilapidated structure should be sold.

“I just don’t feel like we have explored every opportunity, and why would we sell to the first person who offers us something?” said Christine Schott, a Forest Hills Gardens resident and club member. “Our board apparently signed something that they won’t entertain other offers until this plan is voted on, and that’s what gets me so upset. Our board constantly takes the easy way out. They didn’t talk to the United States Tennis Association and USTA sponsors like Chase Bank and Ralph Lauren about possibilities for the stadium.”

Schott said she has engaged in dialogue with the USTA and companies like Ralph Lauren about preserving the stadium. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) also have called the USTA on behalf of residents who want to speak with them about the USTA possibly using the stadium.

WSTC Board President Ken Parker wrote in a Sept. 12 letter to club members that Cord Meyer specified the club could not entertain other proposals for the stadium while the negotiation with Cord Meyer was happening, to which the board agreed.

“Cord Meyer stated that their architectural plans were unique in that the development would take place within the structure of the stadium,” Parker wrote in the letter. “They indicated that since no sales contract was in effect, it would be necessary to ensure the confidentiality and protection of their design plans.”

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.

“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,” Causey, a tennis club member and Forest Hills resident, wrote in an August e-mail. “For this, I do agree with, pending fine tuning, the proposal by Cord Meyer to WSTC.”

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

Updated 6:30 pm, October 10, 2011
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