Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Controversial Randall's Island Tennis Concession Looking to Expand

Players enjoy court time at swanky tennis center at Randalls Island Park.
Players enjoy court time at fancy tennis center at Randalls Island Park. (Photo: Craig Warga/New York Daily News)

The Sportime Tennis facility on Randall's Island is looking to add nine courts to its existing 20 as part of a $ 5 million to $ 7 million proposed expansion. Although located only a few hundred yards from the South Bronx, the facility charges exorbitant fees. Critics of the pay-to-play concession have long complained they are being allowed to operate a private business on what is supposed to be public parkland at the exclusion of the public.

Sportime charges between $72 to $105 per hour for indoor courts, on top of fees of $500-750 to join, in addition to monthly dues as high as $ 286 for a family. (They have more than 2,000 members) Tennis lessons run as high as $ 5,950 for one hour lessons for 34 weeks. One camp charges $ 500 a day for non-members (transportation and food is extra).

Players at the John McEnroe Academy pay between $3,600 to $4,800 for 34 weeks of two-hour lessons, according to an Associated Press article last year.

Sportime members also get discounted court time and the right to book courts before nonmembers and enjoy access to "members only" locker rooms with steam baths and a massage therapist.

The enormous 160,000 sq. ft., $ 19 million dollar project - spearheaded by the Randall's Island Sport Foundation (RISF), Michael Bloomberg is a long-time board member - avoided ULURP which is required for a “new building of more than 15,000 square feet ... located on park land.”

Sportime advertised a "20 thousand Sq. feet of club house and support facilities include a performance-training center, comfortable lounge areas providing fill viewing into all the courts, full-service locker rooms for adults and juniors, a pro-shop, a bar/cafe, class rooms and more."

"The new facility will also feature a unique and intimate 4,000 seat tennis stadium, specifically designed to house SPORTIME"S World Team Tennis franchise, The NY Sportimes," a Sportime poster read.

Officials have repeatedly claimed that Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) was not required because a facility already existed at this location. This is inaccurate. The current facility does not occupy a single inch of a former tennis facility's foot print. A much smaller tennis facility was in a different location.

Sportime also got a great deal on the electric bill. According to the license agreement between Island Tennis, L.P. d/b/a Sportime, the RISF, and the City, the "Licensee's sole responsibility
with respect to electric costs shall be $ 655 per month."

Long-time Bloomberg friend Elizabeth Smith - head of DPR Revenue and Marketing - head of Sportime, Claude Okin, and RISF's head Aimee Boden signed the amended October 13, 2007 agreement.

Adding to the controversy, tennis concession fees - expected to be $ 1 million dollars this year alone - are being diverted from the city general funds to the Randall's Island Sport Foundation under a December 31, 2001 agreement with the city. RISF collected approx. $750,000 last year.
RISF is expect to pocket an additional $ 400,000- $ 500,000 annually if the project is approved according to Sportime. - Geoffrey Croft

The $ 5 to $ 7 million dollar proposal seeks to add nine additional courts in this parking lot located directly across the street. The enormous new tennis facility which had NOT previously existed at this location was allowed to be built last year avoided going through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Officials have repeatedly claimed that ULURP was not required because a facility already existed at this location. This is inaccurate. Ironically the proposal to build these new courts will go through the review process. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge

Randall's Island

Park and community advocates are raising a racket over the continued privatization of public parkland on Randalls Island, according to the New York Daily News.

The private company that runs a swanky tennis center at Randalls Island Park has announced plans to expand the facility at no cost to taxpayers.

But advocates claim poor players from the South Bronx and East Harlem won’t benefit, because the center operates like a high-priced club, with members shelling out thousands of dollars for lessons and perks.

“The public is losing access to Randalls Island inch by inch and year by year,” said Marina Ortiz of East Harlem Preservation, who in 2009 helped defeat a $50 million deal between the city and private schools for field time at the park.

(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge

Built and paid for by Sportime, a company with clubs in the Hamptons, the $18 million tennis center opened in 2009 and boasts 20 indoor and outdoor courts, a cafe and a tennis academy run by pro legend John McEnroe.

Sportime now wants to build nine more courts, a $5 million to $7 million project, said spokesman Ben Schlansky. It pays a percentage of its revenue to the Randalls Island Sports Foundation, the nonprofit that manages the park, but none directly to the city.

The new courts would generate an additional $400,000 to $500,000 per year for the park and “allow Sportime to offer additional adult and youth programs,” said Schlansky, adding that Sportime plans to build on an existing parking lot.

Sportime has vowed to renovate surrounding property as part of the project and Schlansky said four of the nine new courts would be reserved for the public from May to October.

But the tennis players who live nearest to Randalls Island will be shut out from the rest of the courts, said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates.

Courts rent for $72 to $105 per hour for non-members, more than most Bronx and Harlem players can afford. Sportime members pay $500 to $700 to join plus monthly dues. “The city is giving away public parkland for private business,” said Croft.

The existing facility was never approved by Community Board 11 in East Harlem but the expansion proposal will undergo the official land use review process. Board 11 will hold a public hearing for December or January, said Matthew Washington, chairman.

He said Board 11 will likely demand more scholarships for East Harlem youngsters.

“Tennis is often seen as an exclusive activity,” he said, noting that Sportime’s license agreement with the city is also under review. “We want to make sure the facility is accessible to everyone.”

Sportime has already provided “hundreds of hours” of free tennis to poor, “under-resourced” children and doled out $300,000 in financial aid, Schlansky said. It reserves 50% of outdoor court time for the general public.

But Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem) called the privatization of Randalls Island “a concern.”

Read More:

New York Daily News - November 8 2011 - By Daniel Beekman

NY 1 - November 8, 2011 - By Rebecca Spitz

DNAinfo - November 7, 2011 - By Jeff Mays

A Walk In The Park - January 26, 2011

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