Thursday, April 26, 2012

Parks Dept. Extends Private Tennis Deal Through 2017 - CB 8 Rejects Encroachment On Ballfield

Parks Department Rejects Community's Demand To Restore Seized Ballfield Time In The Fall


Overstaying Its Welcome. Without notifying the community, once again, the Bloomberg administration struck a deal to allow the Sutton Place Tennis Club consession to extend its season whereby displacing park users in a community that has the least amount of park and open space in the entire city. The consession is located in the Queensboro Oval Park softball field under the 59th Street Bridge at York Avenue in Manhattan. The tennis concession charges the highest price of any tennis concession on NYC park land - up to $ 195 per hour. (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on photo to enlarge

Betsy Smith, head of revenue and marketing for the Parks Department is scheduled to appear this evening at 6:30 pm at a special CB 8's Parks committee meeting. The agency has refused to answer a number of questions relating to the deal.

Manhattan


By Geoffrey Croft


Irate ballfield users and Community Board 8 members were informed by the Parks Department just two weeks ago that the agency had granted the city's most expensive tennis concession on public parkland an additional six weeks to operate in another behind closed door deal orchestrated by the Parks Department's revenue division.


Without notifying the community the Bloomberg administration struck a deal to allow the private tennis club to extend its season whereby displacing park users in a community has the least amount of park and open space in the entire city. The Sutton Place Tennis Club concession charges the highest price of any tennis concession on NYC park land - up to $ 195 per hour.


The secretly negotiated deal allows the tennis club bubbles to stay up for an additional six weeks each year until 2017.


Sources told A Walk In The Park that Tony Scolnick/Sutton East Tennis Club had threatened to sue the City/Parks Department over the cancellation of a 2009 contract that would have allowed the tennis concessionaire to operate on the ballfield year-round.


According to Betsy Smith, head of revenue and marketing for the Parks Department and Mayor Bloomberg family friend, the reason for the extension was because the concessioner made a "substantial investment" to convert the bubble to year-around.


Despite repeated attempts the Parks Department has refused to provide any documentation of investments made, or answer when the contract was signed, or how much in additional revenue the City/Sutton East Tennis Club is expected to receive. A copy of the Sutton East Tennis Club six week extension agreement has also not been made available.


Last week Community Board 8 took a strong position against the Parks Department's actions and approved a resolution by a vote of 36 to 0.

In a April 23rd letter to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, (below) the Board pointed out that the Parks Departement agreed in 2010 to honor "THE PUBLIC’s desire to maintain the Queensboro Oval Park as a public space for sports leagues and for the use of the community at large for four straight months each year. " They also stated that the public should be compensated for the six-weeks of lost access to the Queensboro Oval this spring by extending public access to the park by six weeks this fall and revert to the original agreement of four consecutive months.


The Parks Department however has rejected this.


A Parks Department spokesperson said that the tennis bubble will stay up until June 15 every year through 2017, when their current contract expires, and that they do not plan on offering extensions of ball field permits through the fall.


Questions have been raised once again why the community was only finding out about this deal now, when since at least December 2011 Sutton East Tennis Club has been advertising tennis through June 14th, long after the ballfields are supposed to be available to the public.


This lack of transparency is particularly inflammatory considering the last time the issue of the extending the tennis concession surfaced in 2010 was when the agency's revenue division struck a behind closed door deal to allow the private tennis club on public park to go from seasonal to year-round. The Community Board vote came five months after the concessionaire had already signed a contract with Parks. Opponents of the plan charge they had not been properly notified of the proposal.


For over 40 years, The Queensboro Oval Field, located along York Avenue under the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan, has been a home to baseball, softball, soccer, football, schools, leagues, families, joggers, and children learning to ride bikes and pick-up recreation activities in a beloved public park. It has been and continues to be a vital resource for countless people.


Betsy Smith is scheduled to appear this evening at 6:30 pm at a special CB 8's Parks committee meeting. (See Below)












Queensboro Oval Park Ballfield (Image: Google)



For much of the year, the Queensboro Oval park under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge is rented out to a concessionaire to operate a tennis bubble. But for the past several years, every spring the giant bubble is dismantled to make way for softball and baseball leagues. This year, however, the Parks Department has decided to shave six weeks off the ball-playing season and give that time to the Sutton East Tennis Club, a move that has some Upper East Side residents seeing red, according to Our Town.

Two years ago, the Parks Department backed off of a plan to allow the tennis bubble to remain operational all year after strong opposition from the community, allowing sports groups access to the space for four months every summer. The community didn’t find out about the recently determined extended tennis season until it was announced at a Community Board 8 committee meeting two weeks ago, and the full board strongly condemned the move, resolving to ask the Parks Department to extend the baseball permit season by six weeks into the fall to compensate for the lost time.

“I feel that it is a slap in the face to the parks committee, to CB 8, to the users of the field and to the people of the community board, not only 8 but 6, and other residents of the city who have seen this grow and grow and grow—this beast taking over a public park in your community,” said resident Bradley Cohen at the meeting.

Cohen said he couldn’t get an answer for weeks on why his request for a permit for ball playing was delayed, even though the Parks Department was in the middle of negotiating this new arrangement.

Parks Department Assistant Commissioner Betsy Smith, who has agreed to attend the upcoming CB 8 Parks Committee meeting on Thursday, April 26 to answer questions, said in a statement that the reason the Department decided to extend the tennis season was that “the Sutton East Tennis Club had already made a substantial investment to convert the bubble to a year-round operation based on the execution of the contract amendment and its registration by the comptroller.

“It was therefore prudent to address the legitimate concerns raised by the concessionaire, and we reached an agreement with them to extend the indoor season by six weeks,” she said. She also called the ball fields “vastly underused.”

A Parks Department spokesperson said that the tennis bubble will be able to stay up until June 15 every year through 2017, when their current contract expires, and that they do not plan on offering extensions of ball field permits through the fall.

“I object to the Parks Department citing the investment that the tennis club put into the bubble, because the tennis club knows full well how the community feels about the availability of the park to the neighborhood. Calling for the need to be compensated for making improvements is disingenuous,” said board member Sarah Chu at the meeting, a sentiment that many others echoed.

The Community Board also voted to ask the Parks Department to require that the tennis club restore the park to its original state when they dismantle the bubble, and many members expressed dismay over the way the Department handled the entire situation.

Geoffrey Croft, who runs the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates, said it’s particularly frustrating because many community members fought so hard against the tennis bubble being allowed to stay up year round and thought they had secured their summer space.

“We successfully fought back against that, and now we find out about another underhanded move, that the city is trying to give this guy a deal because his contract from two years ago fell apart,” Croft said.



Meeting Date:


Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 6:30pm

Meeting Location:

New York Blood Center

310 East 67th Street (First-Second), Auditorium

New York, NY

  1. The Parks Dept.'s Betsy Smith will explain the Parks Dept.'s decision to reduce by six weeks this spring the public's access to the Queensboro Oval at E. 59th St.


Margaret Price and Barbara Rudder, Parks Committee Co-Chairs


April 23, 2012

Hon. Adrian Benepe

Commissioner

Department of Parks and Recreation

The Arsenal

830 Fifth Avenue

New York, New York 10021


Re: Discussion of the Parks Department's plans to extend until mid-June a tennis facility's use of the Queensboro Oval at East 59th St.


Dear Commissioner Benepe:


At the Full Board meeting on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Manhattan Community Board 8 approved the following resolution by a vote of 36 in favor, 0 opposed and 2 abstentions and 1 not

voting for cause:


WHEREAS Community Board 8M passed a resolution in February 2010, stating that it unequivocally opposes extending the use of the Queensboro Oval—which is public parkland— to a privately owned year-round franchise tennis facility, and maintains that the Oval must be made available for public use for four contiguous months a year; and


WHEREAS the Parks Dept. agreed in 2010 to honor THE PUBLIC’s desire to maintain the Queensboro Oval Park as a public space for sports leagues and for the use of the community at large for four straight months each year; and


WHEREAS the Parks Dept. has extended, without prior notice to the community, the terms of a private tennis facility’s use of the Queensboro Oval for an additional six weeks each year, thereby shortening the public’s ability to use the space by six weeks, and


WHEREAS the Queensboro Oval is typically left in disrepair when the tennis facility dismantles its “bubble” facility; therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED that Community Board 8, Manhattan, reaffirms its positions stated in its resolution of February, 2010 and urges the Parks Dept. to honor its agreement with the community to maintain the Queensboro Oval as public land for sports teams and the public at large for four contiguous months each year.


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that CB8M asks the Parks Dept. to compensate the public for six-weeks of lost access to the Queensboro Oval this spring by extending public access to the park by six weeks this fall and revert to the original agreement of four consecutive months starting in 2013, and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that CB8M urges the Parks Dept. to ensure that the Queensboro oval lessee restore the field to its proper parkland condition after the tennis bubble is dismantled.


Sincerely,


Nicholas D. Viest Margaret Price and Barbara Rudder

Chair Co-Chairs, Parks Committee


Read More:

Our Town - April 26, 2012 - By Megan Finnegan Bungeroth


A Walk In The Park - April 15, 2012 - Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - March 18, 2010 - By Geoffrey Croft


A Walk In The Park - February 17, 2010 - By Geoffrey Croft


Sunday, April 22, 2012

No Money To Repair Sink Holes In MacNeil Park


Funds are not available to fix the sinkholes and general disrepair that plague the coastal walkway in MacNeil Park. To fix them the city would also have to fix related seawall problems. Parks is currently seeking funding for these projects. (Photo by Nykeema Williams)

Queens

The coastal areas of College Point are about to get a face-lift, but the city still plans to perform construction in the isolated neighborhood and then give the accompanying amenities to Douglaston, according to Times Ledger.

In late spring, the city Parks Department is set to begin making improvements to the interior pathways of MacNeil Park and has nearly finished reconstructing the comfort station and improving site drainage, according to a department spokesman.

The projects are part of more than $1.2 million that the department is using to spruce up the greenspace, Parks said.

But the money, allocated by elected officials, is still not enough to fix the sinkholes that plague the coastal walkway.

Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) allocated $425,000 to fix the interior pathways, and Marshall designated a further $800,000 to reconstruct the comfort station and improve drainage.

But to fix the sinkholes, the department would also have to fix related seawall problems, which it does not have the cash to do, a spokesman said.

Parks is currently seeking funding for such a project, which James Cervino, a marine and earth scientist who lives in the neighborhood, testified about at a recent budget hearing.

Cervino wants the seawall project to be included in Marshall’s budget for the coming fiscal year. Large rocks called riprap need to be restacked in front of the seawall in a neater fashion to prevent water from eroding the soil underneath the pathways and creating the sinkholes, Cervino said.

The city Department of Environmental Protection is also working to make College Point a little greener, but critics charge that the department should be doing more.

DEP now is creating wetlands at the end of Powell’s Cove Park, and when the project is complete, the area will have less invasive plant species, restored landscaping in the park and more than 3,500 trees and shrubs.

But the department is also putting resources into a restoration in Douglaston that community leaders think should stay in College Point.

DEP plans to do sewer work in College Point as part of an overall plan to clean up Flushing Bay. To offset the inconvenience of construction, DEP offered to put more resources into a wetland restoration, but decided to make the improvements in Udall’s Cove.

In February, Cervino, also a member and environmental adviser to Community Board 7, had previously blasted the department for giving the amenities outside of College Point, even though the neighborhood will bear the burden of construction.

A spokesman for DEP confirmed that the department’s plans have not changed.


Read More:

Times Ledger - April 21, 2012 - By Joe Anuta

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thieves Close Franz Siegel Bathroom

Out Of Order - Franz Siegel Bathroom. It's closing leaves no other bathroom facilities for the entire 16 acre park. The park's other comfort station closed two decades ago. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/ NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

Bronx
On April 1st the Parks Department discovered that thieves had stolen plumbing from the comfort station in Franz Siegel Park in the Bronx. The bathrooms have been out-of-service since.

Last Saturday hundreds of ballplayers as well as friends and families were forced to find other places to relieve themselves.

"We have to go in the bushes," said a member of the Canabacoa ball club playing on the poorly maintained fields. "We're used to it."

According to the Parks Department, 4 flush valves (approximate value $500 each) were stolen. The agency replaced the valves this week and they should be open today. - Geoffrey Croft

Members of the Canabacoa baseball club. The closed comfort Station is behind them.

















The comfort station has been closed since April 1st, when the Parks department discovered the missing valves.

View More:

WPIX - April 20, 2012 - By Monica Morales

Friday, April 20, 2012

Trees Destroyed For Heineken/Tribeca Film Festival

Trees Blocking Billboard Chopped
A Heineken/Tribeca Film Festival billboard in SoHo was affixed to the fa├žade of a building at 482 West Broadway at the southwest corner of West Houston Street and West Broadway. A couple of 10-year-old honey locust trees - left and center - were severally damaged when they were illegally pruned. The tree on the right - not blocking the building's facade - escaped the butcher.

Heineken denied the company was behind the tree mutilation, and said it plans to look into "whether or not the third-party installer of the sign has any knowledge of what happened."

According to the Parks Department it is illegal to damage trees on city property, and violations can be punishable by fines as much as $15,000 and a year in prison.

It's been a tough couple of weeks for trees on city property.

Manhattan

Just hours after the news broke that someone had illegally lopped off the tops of a pair of trees that obscured a giant Tribeca Film Festival and Heineken billboard, the beer company offered to replace the mutilated trees, accordng to DNAinfo.


A Heineken representative said the company was in no way behind the "reprehensible" pruning on the southwest corner of West Houston Street and West Broadway but would nonetheless shoulder the burden of replanting.


"We will replace the trees at our expense," a Heineken spokeswoman said Friday morning after DNAinfo broke the story on the trees, adding that the brewery will be advised by the New York Tree Trust, a program of the Parks Department.



Trees Blocking Billboard Chopped


SoHo Trees in Front of Billboard Illegally Cut. The trees would have blocked two out of three lines of text on a four-story billboard advertising Heineken and the Tribeca Film Festival.


"We will rely on the Tree Trust to advise us on the appropriate type and size of tree," she said.


The timing of the replacement of the 10-year-old honey locusts, which locals noticed earlier this month had been chopped, was not yet clear.


A Parks Department spokeswoman said she was unaware of Heineken's offer.


"NYC Parks wants to take this opportunity to remind the public that arborcide is a serious crime," she said. "We urge anyone who may have information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator or perpetrators to report it by calling 311."


It's illegal to damage trees on city property, and violations can be punishable by fines as much as $15,000 and a year in prison, according to the Parks department website.


Heineken will continue to look into whether a third-party installer of the four-story ad attached to the side of a building has any knowledge of what happened, the company spokeswoman said.


"In no way was this action sanctioned by us," she said. "We had nothing to do with it and we find it to be reprehensible."

Tribeca Film Festival previously said it had no knowledge of work performed on the trees, and billboard owner Fuel Outdoor did not respond to multiple calls for comment.


TriBeCa resident and certified citizen tree pruner Steve Boyce, 60, said he appreciated the replacement of the trees on high-traffic West Houston Street.


"It's definitely a gesture, and it's greatly appreciated," he said.


Boyce suggested the city pursue a long-term solution to conflicts with the owners of billboards in high-traffic areas. "This is a cat-and-mouse game," he said. "The city and billboard owners could either make sure trees [in front of billboards] are trimmed or that there are just no trees there."


Read More:

DNAinfo - April 20, 2012 - By Andrea Swalec

DNAinfo - April 20, 2012 - By Andrea Swalec

WPIX - April 20, 2012 - By Greg Mocker

Lack Of Security Cited As Reason Residents Want Matthews Muliner Playground Closed Early

Several residents who live near Matthews Muliner Playground in Morris Park are not happy that the Parks Department has extended the hours due to a lack of security. Parents are fed up with the illegal activity.

Bronx

Matthews Muliner Park has been through hell and back. What was once the wild west is now a family-friendly playground thanks to an unwritten enforcement rule that closes the park at 6pm, according to Bronx Times.

But recently the New York City Parks Department has allowed the acre-sized playground to close later and later. Longtime residents fear that approach will lead to history repeating itself.

“You can already see the semblance of gang activity here,” said Al D’Angelo, president of the Morris Park Community Association who has lived in the area for 38 years. He is now dealing with a spike in neighborhood complaints because the Parks Department has kept the gates open later, inviting a gang element into the park.

In a meeting on Wednesday, April 4, residents reported seeing gang members from the Bloods and Crips milling around in the park for upwards to 11 p.m. Graffiti and garbage are also making a comeback, according to D’Angelo.

“It’s going to disintegrate back to what it was 10 years ago,” said D’Angelo.

The park, named after crooked colonial pol David Matthews and Dutch settler Thomas Muliner, was not a bucolic spot during the early 2000s.

“Stabbings, wholescale drug activity, people getting mugged,” were some of the activity associated with Matthews Muliner, according to D’Angelo. The crime element kept homeowners indoors, fearful for their life.

“Once this park gets out from under us, we are done for as homeowners,” said a Morris Park neighbor, who requested to remain anonymous.

Zachary Feder, a Parks Department spokesman, said there is no agreement that the park closes its gates at 6 p.m.

“Like all of our playgrounds, Matthews Muliner Playground closes at dusk,” said Feder. “During these warmer months, with more hours of daylight and dusk arriving later, people will have more time to enjoy the park.”

Mohammed Mirza, a 15 year-old teen who goes to the park, stands behind the Parks Department.

“Nobody wants to go home early,” said Mirza. “I live across the street from this park I want to play.”

The last three weeks have seen little to no incidents, according to D’Angelo. The 49th Precinct’s Deputy Inspector Kevin Nicholson said his officers constantly patrol the area, but unless there is crime happening inside the park, arrests cannot be made.

“They’re not breaking any laws,” said Nicholson. “We can’t lock anyone up for being in the park.”

The community has requested a representative from the Parks Department to attend one of the group’s upcoming meetings. So far the Parks Department has not respond.


Read More:

Matthews Muliner park extends hours, residents alarmed

Bronx Times - April 18, 2012 - By David Cruz

Parents fed Up with the pot playground

WPIX - April 20, 2012 - By Monica Morales