Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Two CB's Vote Against USTA Expansion - One Unanimously

The expansion would utilize an additional acre of public parkland - not .68 acres - remove more than 400 trees,  bring in an additional 80,000 people, and increase traffic in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park which is already severely impacted by the USTA.  The USTA has been allowed to double its park land holdings since 1993 when they were permitted to expand from 21 acres to 42.   

Last year the USTA generated $ 275 million dollars and gave the city back just $ 2.5 million and while sending millions in "profits" across America.

The USTA expanstion is the first of the three enormous commercial projects being proposed in the park.


A not happy looking Gordon Smith, USTA's Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer,  flanked by Chief Legal Officer Andrea Hirsch, and consultants including AKRF, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips,  and Rubenstein Communications last night at community Board 4. The USTA went  0 for 2 last night in community board approvals for its controversial $  500 million dollar proposed expansion into the park. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

By Geoffrey Croft

It was not a good night for the United States Association as two community boards simultaneously rejected their expansion plan,  with one voting unanimously against the land grab.

The night was not without drama as both boards surprisingly began by voting down their previous resolutions they had adopted.

The CB  4 meeting in Corona began by passing out the resolution that said yes to the USTA expansion with stipulations - however that motion never made it to the floor.

A new resolution was adopted to deny the USTA expanstion application which the board voted unanimously to support.

The evening started off ominously when it was announced that the public would only be allowed one minute each to make public comments.  However that provision apparently only applied to some.

CB 7 Chair Eugene Kelty and 1st Vice Chairperson Chuck Apelian showed up.  For weeks have been pressing for a cash for public park land swap deal vote deal.  Their Let's Make a Deal  montra  did not fly however and backfired on the two last night.    (The night before CB 7 voted in favor)

CB 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol violated the rules and invited Mr.  Kelty up to speak after the public session was over.  Mr. Keilty was eventually shouted down by the crowd.

Many people took great offense at him trying to influence the board. 

"He had no right speaking during the board deliberations," said Ben Haber.  "He never would have any of that at his own board." 

Community Board 4  voted  36-0 against expansion.  

The night unfolded bit differently over at CB 9 in Ozone Park with a real nail-biter.

The USTA dispatched a host of employees - Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer, Gordon Smith, Chief Legal Officer Andrea Hirsch, and consultants including AKRF, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips,  and Rubenstein Communications.  An ML Soccer rep for Global Strategies was also on hand monitoring the events.  

The meeting, held under a disco ball at The Majestic Marquise, started with a motion to adopt an entirely new resolution.

Communty Board 4 meeting. 

The board's original strongly worded draft outlined a host of concerns including the lack of money the city was receiving from USTA for the use of the park and the loss of park land for commercial purposes.

"Currently, the USTA pays a paltry sum to the City for is, in effect, the sale of precious park land,"  the draft resolution stated.   "At a minimum, we ask that the city condition its approval on a substantial increase in the annual funds that USTA pays the City."

It recommended the USTA pay triple the amount they are currently required to give the city.

"The alienation of public park land is becoming an epidemic. The arguments for removing park land from recreational use by the public because sports an other developments projects may provide jobs, generate income etc. lead to the obvious and unavoidable conclusion that we shout sell off our parks to the highest bidders," the draft resolution continued. 

"It was meant to send a strong message to the City of New York that all these things are coming down the line,"  said Land Use Committee Chair Sylvia Hack of all three commercial projects proposed for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. 

"The strongest message is if we vote no,"  countered board member Maria Thomson. "No is the strongest message."

The board agreed. They voted to scrap the original resolution and focus solely on whether or not to approve the extension. 

"God is not making anymore parkland,"  said board member Stephen Sofer. 

As he had done before board member Alex Blenkinsopp asked whether or not the USTA had previously made a promise not to come back and ask for additional parkland after the 90's when they were allowed to double their parkland holdings.  

Joshua Bocian, an advisor in Manatt's  Government & Regulatory Policy Division stood up and offered USTA's  executive director Gordon Smith to the board to address questions.

"We are aware of the allegations,"  Mr. Smith said but he denied that such a promise was ever made.

"If they were made orally I don't know, we weren't there."

Ben Haber, 85  blasted the USTA for not being truthful.   

"Who is going to believe that crap," Mr. Haber said when reached afterwards.

"What, they were going to just keep coming back for more and more and that wasn't going to come up? Come on.  I remember them saying, 'no, no,' they were never going to come back and ask for more parkland. " 

Mr. Haber said he attended all the commuity board meetings in the 90's relating to this issue.

"I've been fighting for that park for 50 years," he said.  "enough is enough with these lies."

Andrea Crawford, the board's outgoing chairperson, and supporter of the project, made statements during the meeting that contained misinformation. (Board chairs are supposed to remain neutral)

Several board members were upset and felt they were only hearing from one side and not from the opposition. 

Andrea Crawford and another board member said the USTA vote was akin to liquor license where the applicant only  - the owner of bar  - was allowed to speak during debate.  

Alex Blenkinsopp disagreed.

"I would say the future of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is not akin to a liquor license," he stated pointedly.

A spirited but short debate ensued. The board abruptly ended the discussion and took a vote to end the debate. 

The board voted 22 against allowing the USTA to expand- 20 for with 1 abstention. 

"I did not care for the way the procedure was being carried out," Alex Blenkinsopp said after the meeting.

 " I'm very pleased the majority of our board voted the right way for our parks and fellow residents."  

Community Board 6 and  8 are voting this evening and CB 3 on Thursday.

 An architectural rendering of the plans for the new USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.


  1. Good for these Community Boards! Unfortunately the concession land grab has been going on for many years now without proper scrutiny, regulation, etc.

    Also - This reporting is too important to be posted without proofreading :)

  2. someone needs to investigate AKRF, the "environmental" analysis firm behing MANY projects