Photo by Steve Mosco
By Steve Mosco

Park advocates have no love for a proposed tennis center expansion in Flushing.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined members of New York City Park Advocates and the Queens Civic Congress to protest the proposed expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s facility in Flushing Meadows Corona Park this week.

“Parkland is for the people,” said Avella. “This has to stop and it has to stop here.”

The proposed expansion of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center would require 0.68 acres of parkland to be permanently turned over to the USTA, in addition to the 42 acres of parkland it currently possesses. Avella said the expansion would take parkland without replacing it, thereby robbing the community of greenspace.

“To a lot of people in the community, this is their backyard,” he said. “Flushing Corona Park is being treated like a stepchild. I don’t get it. Tremendous amounts of people use this park to play and relax.”

The proposed project would rebuild one stadium, construct another and put in two parking garages on top of current asphalt lots. The USTA said this project would require it to encroach on close to 30 feet of what is currently parkland.

But the sliver of land in question is mostly an existing asphalt road, according to Daniel Zausner, chief operating officer of the National Tennis Center.

“Our goal is to continue to be a good steward of the park and a good neighbor and community partner,” Zausner said. “Understanding that every inch of parkland is precious, our plan calls for the minimum amount of additional parkland possible, 0.68 acres, to complete the needed upgrades to the NTC.”

Zausner added that the USTA has no plans for any additional expansion.

Geoffrey Croft, of New York City Park Advocates, contended the amount of parkland required by the USTA for this project is irrelevant. If it gets the land, he believes chances are it will keep coming back for more.

“The USTA has failed to recognize the gift given to them by the city,” Croft said. “Instead, they constantly want more. We don’t need 400 trees removed from the park.”

Croft said the USTA’s project in conjunction with the proposed construction of a Major League Soccer stadium and a large mall as part of the Willets Point development, would constitute perhaps the biggest land grab for parkland not only in Queens but also in the entire city.

“The USTA’s project is the smallest, but it is no less important to stop,” he said.

Some civic members attending the rally said the city’s willingness to fork over Flushing parkland speaks to a much larger problem the borough constantly faces.

“The city does not care about this park or Queens and the evidence is piling up,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “Look at the crumbling New York State Pavilion. That should be landmarked, yet it’s falling apart. When the US Open comes to Flushing, the city allows hundreds of cars to park on the grass. How is that good for the park?”

Avella agreed and said that other city parks would never be treated in this manner.

“You try to do this in Prospect Park in Brooking or in Central Park, you wouldn’t even get a foot in the door,” he said. “When it comes to Queens, the city has never met a development project it didn’t like.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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