Tuesday, March 12, 2013

CB 7 Votes 30 - 6 In Favor Of USTA Land Grab

"Does everyone remember Monty Hall" - Phil Konigsberg- CB 7 board member

Last night Community Board 7 voted 30-6 in favor of the United State Tennis Association's   land grab becoming the first full board to approve the project.  It goes before five other boards over the next few days.  (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) click on images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

As expected community Board 7 last night overwhelmingly voted to approve the USTA's    $ 500 million expansion into Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

The board voted 30-6 in favor of the USTA land grab becoming the first board to give a green light for the controversial project, in what is widely expected to be the first in a series of board rubber stamp approvals despite strong community opposition. 

The board enacted the destroying parks in order to "Save Them" policy.  

The approval was conditioned upon "a non-binding" proposal that the tennis giant establish a capital fund of $15 million and an annual maintenance fund of $ 300,000 to be used exclusively for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. 

The board was reminded that it is the government's responsibility to fund parks not private business. 

As has been the case in virtually all the community to board meetings on this issue, not a single person from the audience who did not have an affiliation to the USTA spoke in favor of the project.  Individual union members were paraded out, people doing business with the USTA as well as participants of thier tennis programs.

For weeks CB 7 leadership have been pressing for the cash for public park land swap deal.  Finally a few weeks ago 1st Vice Chairperson Chuck Apelian publicly put a proposed number on the deal. 

Mr. Apelian and CB 7 Chair Eugene Kelty last night strongly pushed again for extracting funds from the USTA for the park.

"Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Belongs to the people and should not be given away to the USTA," Elizabeth Lee said last night testifying  against the plan.

"If they give me a check for  20 million (for the park) I'll vote no, " Mr. Kelty said.

"Does everyone remember Monty Hall" asked board member Phil Konigsberg of the iconic Let's Make a Deal game show host.

"We're talking about giving away parkland. This is only the beginning," Mr. Konigsberg said referring to two other enormous commercial projects - a  1.4 million Sq. ft. mall and the 35,000 seat MLS stadium-  also being proposed for the park.

"If the City wants to create more jobs for the local economy how about employing more people to maintain the parks grounds and playing fields, increase garbage pick-ups," said Elizabeth Lee.

Board member Warren Schreiber also spoke out passionately against the project.

The boards lop-sided vote did not surprise Alfredo Centola, president of the Malba Gardens Civic Association and a founding member of the Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park campaign.

He reminded the audience that park committee chair Kim O'Hanian said there's no point in voting "no", because Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and City Council Julissa Ferreras are going to vote "yes" anyway.

"I commented on the illusion of democracy," Mr. Centola said afterwards. 

During the board only discussion part of the evening numerous members including Mr.  Kelty and Mr. Apelian misrepresented the land that was to be developed. They referred only to a road section of the planned expansion and conveniently omitted more park like features that would be destroyed including a beautiful tear drop shaped park acreage and others.

USTA COO Daniel Zausner paced around the room all night long.  Despite repeated requests the USTA has refused to put their expansion proposal on-line for some reason.

The USTA was also taken to task for repeatedly refusing to put their presentation proposal on-line.

CB board member Joe Fermenia however mis-spoke and claimed the presentation was on-line while USTA COO Daniel Zausner and Parks Department officials stood a feet away and refused to correct him.  

In speaking out against the project a representative from the Central Labor Council told the union members that they were not representing organized union only themselves. 

Maryann Rosa, a community outreach coordinator for the labor group said the USTA had a history of not treating it's workers well and reminded the audience that umpires working for the USTA were suing them for back pay. 

In 2011, a group of umpires filed a complaint against the USTA in federal court in Manhattan claiming the group misclassified them as independent contractors to avoid giving them overtime and other pay.  The suit claims the USTA violated federal and state pay laws.

"The New York City Central Labor Council (CLC) shares with the Queens community serious concerns about the United States Tennis Association’s proposal to expand its 42-acre center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The USTA has not shown itself to be a friend of working people," the group said in a statement. 

The CLC pointed out the the USTA's CEO received total compensation of $1.4 million in 2010, and 12 employees were paid more than $400,000 each, according to recent published reports.

"With that kind of record, the USTA’s proposed expansion should be called what it is – a bad serve,"  the City Central Labor Council said. 

A representive from the USTA said last night they were fighting the suit. 

The CLC is however supporting the building of a 35,000 seat soccer stadium and concert venue in the park.

After the meeting, CB 7 Chair Eugene Kelty and 1st Vice Chairperson Chuck Apelian celebrated the decisive victory at the North Shore dinner. 

Community Board 4, and 9 are each voting on the application this evening in seperate meetings. 

Community Board 6, and 8 are voting tomorrow and Board 3 on Thursday. 

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