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City authors Senate legislation to lease boro parkland to USTA

Albany has started the final legislative process to lease a portion of Flusing Meadows Corona Park to the United States Tennis Association, which will result in a new stadium (bottom l.) along with a refurbished stadium and expanded retail and office space (top r.). Image courtesy USTA
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A controversial bill that would help transfer Queens parkland to the United States Tennis Association was introduced in Albany Monday without any names attached, although a source said it was written by the mayor’s office.

The state Senate legislation primed 0.68 acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park to be added to the association’s current 42-acre lease of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, although the City Council has to sign off before the state Legislature can make it official.

The association said it needs the sliver of land to allow for the construction of a new stadium, the refurbishing of another and the expansion of retail and office space to keep the facility in top condition.

In addition, the USTA is returning 1.56 acres of leased land to the city via the bill, but the announcement of the parkland swap was largely panned by park advocacy groups who noted the actual use of the land will remain the same.

Bills are often written by lawmakers who act as sponsors, but this particular piece of legislation was introduced straight from the Senate Committee on Rules.

This is standard practice in Albany for bills proposed late in session, for bills with wide support, or according to Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the good government group League of Women Voters of New York State, to protect the legislation’s source from criticism.

“We’ve always looked for transparency. But this is, unfortunately, the way politics work here in Albany,” she said.

Albany insiders refer to these bills as being introduced by Mr. Rules, though a source knowledgeable about the arrangement said the Bloomberg administration authored the text.

The head of the Committee on Rules is Senate Majority Coalition Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Center).

The tennis center actually lies in the district of Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), but the lawmaker, who last week ended his campaign for borough president, said back in March he would not sponsor the bill.

At the time, several sources with knowledge of the legislative process told TimesLedger Newspapers the Bloomberg administration would tap a Republican lawmaker to carry the bill instead of Peralta, although it appears the mayor’s office simply wrote it itself.

The Senate bill marks the beginning of the final step to lease the parkland to the USTA.

According to state law, the Council must now vote to authorize Albany to lease the parkland.

The vote on whether or not to give that green light is scheduled for June 12, according to Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), whose district encompasses the tennis center. Her office said she is still in negotiations with the association on what it may offer in exchange for the land.

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

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