Parks As Cash Cows. Same Time Next Year - $ 74 An Hour? Tennis players in McCarren Park could be in for a big surprise if the City's plan to bubble all of the Park's six courts goes through. The top price for playing tennis under the big top in Prospect Park is $ 74 an hour. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.
The McCarren Park plan would prohibit outdoor use for six month under a plan being floated by the Parks Department. Tennis players are already feeling the squeeze as the Mayor last month quietly doubled the seasonal outdoor fees to $200, the second time he has doubled tennis fees since taking office. (In 2003 the price was $ 50) Critics of the plan say it would discriminate against those who can not afford to pay and privatize public park space.
In order to maxamize profits, the "indoor" tennis season in Prospect Park runs from October to May 8, prohibiting outdoor play in some of the most pleasant times of the year. Additional time is also required for set up and break down eliminating additional weeks of existing outdoor use. The Parks Department is looking for a fifteen year concession.
Full Disclosure? Evan George (l) a project manager for the Parks Department revenue division, and Brooklyn Parks Chief of Staff Martin Mahr, (r) discuss the McCarren proposal. They presented examples of other Parks Department bubbled tennis courts including Prospect Park. Evan George, the manager in charge of the project was asked what the prices would be in McCarren Park. He replied in the $ 40- $45 an hour range. However when asked if he knew what the top prices were at Prospect Park, he said he didn't know.
Mr. Mahr admitted that no surveying had been done to gauge interest in the idea and that typically they issue RFP's for locations that have ten or twelve courts because that's what the business model supports. He said there were at least two operators interested in the proposal.
"Make no mistake," he said, "Its a business."
Mr. Mahr also said they would not issue an RFP unless Parks had the support of the Community Board.
Spring- Time. Jam-Packed courts.
A plan to bubble the courts in Central Park were recently stopped after similar concerns were raised. Critics cited high playing fees, the destruction of a scenic landmark, environmental concerns including noise and light pollution, and the privatization of public parkland among other reasons for opposing the plan.
Another point of contention was the lack community-based planning and consultation, a recurrent theme in this administration. The RFP had been released and the concessionaire had already been chosen before Community Board 7 had held a meeting on the issue. This while the Parks department was still maintaining that no decisions had been made. The City could have saved hundreds of employee hours - including lawyers and revenue personnel - who worked to put this concession together if they had come to the community first in order to gauge interest. It appears the city learned its lesson from the Central Park and Queensbridge Oval debacle (see below) as the DPR came to Community Board 1 before these decisions were already made.
That was the second tennis bubble plan that the Parks Department had been forced to abruptly cancel under strong community opposition in recent weeks. On April 15, 2010 the Parks Department announced it was canceling a plan to quietly turn the Queensboro Oval ballfield over to a year-round private tennis facility - Sutton East Tennis Club - (right) without the knowledge of community residents.
Mayor Bloomberg and Assistant Parks Commissioner for revenue Betsy Smith - Evan George's boss - were attempting to take away the park in order to accommodate a pay-to-play concessionaire who charges the highest rates (up to $180 an hour!) of any tennis facility on city parkland. This would have taken away the usage of a popular ballfield under the 59th St Bridge in a community that has the least amount of park and open space in the entire city. The agreement would have displaced hundreds of children and community residents.
The Parks Department became embroiled in the controversy in January when the community was made aware that the city had already awarded a contract extension to the concessioner.
The local community board had its first meeting about this issue three months AFTER the contract had been signed with the concessionaire.
Both Manhattan plans were scrapped after community outrage forced the city to back down.
|With increasing regularity the City is forcing its citizens to raise funds if they want basic, safe, park services. And for some reason, instead of holding elected officials accountable, some communities are doing it. Private funds were raised last year to resurface the public courts. (Photos: www.mccarrentennis.org/Juliet Papa)|
Cash Cows. The amount of commercial activity and events has exploded on city parkland. The City is increasingly relying on these revenue deals to help make up cuts in the city's general budget by turning our public parks into cash cows. The revenue division at the parks department is now in charge of over $110 million in revenue from concessions and lease agreements for parks.
In FY 10 the DPR represented 91% of all concession revenue taken in from city agencies. — Geoffrey Croft
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