Thursday, April 29, 2010

Parks Department Abruptly Cancels Central Park Tennis Bubble Plan

Rendering:  Irving Polsky, P. E.  Courtesy NYC Park Advocates/LANDMARK West!

Central Park is a National Historic Landmark and New York City’s first Scenic Landmark. 


By Geoffrey Croft

Under mounting pressure, the Parks Department abruptly withdrew its plans yesterday to build four thirty-five foot high tennis bubbles in Central Park. The diesel powered tennis bubbles would have covered 26 tennis courts located between 93rd and 95th streets on the West side of the park for five months of the year. Additional time would have also be required for set up and break down, thereby cutting into existing outdoor use.

Critics cited high playing fees, the destruction of a scenic landmark, environmental concerns including noise and pollution, and the privatization of public parkland among other reasons for opposing this plan.  The bubble structure would have transformed and negatively altered the visual enjoyment that the public has enjoyed for more than 70 years.  Admission would have cost up to $100 per hour according to the Parks Department. Currently the cost to play tennis for the entire season is $100. The proposed contract would have been for 15 years. 

The 35 foot high bubbles would have also cast shadows on the year-round hard courts for much of the day, making these courts dreary and cold.  More than thirteen hundred people signed an online petition in a few weeks.

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 have worked to put this concession together if they had come to the community first in order to gauge interest.  

Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito,  chair of the Parks & Recreation Committee, held a hearing on park concessions 
on Tuesday where the issue of transparency and community consultation was raised repeatedly.  

Late Wednesday afternoon, four New York State Senators – Liz Krueger, Tom Duane, Eric Schneiderman and Jose Serrano – sent a letter to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe voicing their strong opposition to the plan. 

"We do not believe that construction of tennis bubbles is appropriate for Central Park," the letter stated.  "We urge you to reconsider this proposal, which has the potential to impact the natural beauty of the park and its environment, and to further privatize public parks space in a way which excludes large portions of our community,"

“Central Park is one of our city’s truly special places—an open, democratic, green oasis in the dense heart of the metropolis," Kate Wood, Executive Director LANDMARK WEST! said in a statement. "Thanks to all of the New Yorkers who spoke up in support of keeping it bubble-free!”

"We are delighted the City made the right decision and called this off," said Geoffrey Croft, president NYC Park Advocates.   "We wish to thank all those who came together so quickly to help defeat this plan. The City must begin to include communities in land use decisions – before decisions are made."

"Community input, community dialogue, community planning –that's what this whole debate was about," said Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito. "If the Department of Parks had just given the larger community the respect it merited then this very public showdown could have been avoided. In the end, I thank Parks for conceding to what we all knew to be true--that these intrusive and enviromentally unfriendly bubbles within the heart of this cherished oasis would have defaced this historic landmark."‬

On April 15, Community Board 8  on the East side voted to take "No Position"  on the Central Park issue.  The Community Board heard passionate testimony against allowing this plan to go forward.  

On the Brain Lerher show the day before, Parks Commissioner said that Community Board 8  "has initially supported" the plan. According to the Community Board resolution adopted in February 2009 they had voted on "a concept."  Even though the board never heard a formal presentation from the Parks Department and knew very few details, that didn't stop the City from attempting to represent that the City had support. 

"Now they can't wave that they have our approval, " a community board member said after the meeting. "We've learned a lot since February 2009."

The Parks Department had even gone before Board 8 located on the East-side, a year before coming before CB 7 located on the West-side, which is much closer to the proposed tennis bubble site. 

This is the second tennis bubble plan that the Parks Department has been forced to abruptly cancel under strong community opposition in recent weeks.  On April 15, the Parks Department announced it was canceling a plan to extend an existing tennis concession to twelve months a year located at the Queensbridge Oval in Manhattan. 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 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.  The local community board had its first meeting about this issue three months AFTER the contract had been signed with the concessionaire. 

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. 

A special thanks to all the folks at LANDMARK WEST! including Arlene Simon, Kate Wood and Cristiana Peña; The Sierra Club; elected officials including, Liz Krueger, Tom Duane, Eric Schneiderman and Jose Serrano, Council-member Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; Community Board 7 Chair, Mel Wymore; Moisha Blechman, Margaret Doyle, the tennis players, and many more!!  

Landmark West - April 30, 2010

Winter tennis in Central Park nixed
New York Post - April 29, 2010 - By Rich Calder

City Lets the Air Out of Tennis Bubble Plan

Wall Street Journal -  April 29, 2010 - By  Craig Karmin

Our Town -  By Dan Rivoli  -  April 29, 2010 

Landmark West - April 28, 2010 - Cristiana P.

Stop the Central Park Tennis Bubbles!!

Help Protect Central Park - A National Historic Landmark and New York City’s first Scenic Landmark - From Commercial Encroachment!

In an effort to generate additional revenue for the City, The City of New York/Parks and Recreation is proposing building four - 35-foot high, diesel powered tennis bubbles covering 26 tennis courts in Central Park for 5 months of the year. Additional time would also be required each Fall to erect the bubbles, and to remove  them in the Spring which would would cut into existing outdoor use.  The proposed contract would be for 15 years. This is a for profit venture by the City and a private company. The bubble structure will transform and negatively alter the visual enjoyment that the public has enjoyed for more than 70 years.

• Admission will cost up to $100 per hour according to the Parks Department. Currently the cost to play tennis for the entire season is $100. The hefty price tag to play undermines the "democratic character" of the park. Help prevent the City from turning Central Park into a Cash Cow. 

•  At dusk, and through the night, each bubble would glow from the interior lighting. It would be a new visible intrusion for people living in the surrounding buildings.  Generators would run on diesel fuel stored in four tanks; each tank holds 2,300 gallons. Noise from the generator is classified at 65 decibels at a distance of 50 feet from the generator. It would be heard by anyone walking or sitting nearby at all times during the 5 months of operation. This is a unnecessary source of emissions and would impinge on the Park's value as a soothing refuge and a contrast to the built city environment. The bubble would one of the largest "non-historic" structures in the park. This is inappropriate to the landmark design and setting of the park.

•  The 35 foot high bubble will cast shadows on the year-round hard courts for much of the day, making these courts dreary and cold.  Noise from the generator will also be detrimental for the players and visitors alike.  

•  Tennis bubbles have a capacity of 1,000 people per week which means an additional 4,000 people coming into this area. The parks department anticipates the use of golf carts, or shuttle vehicles to accommodate the increased crowd.

All these changes together will have a significant impact on existing park uses.  

It is clear that the erection and operation of the bubbles could cause significant light pollution, noise pollution, CO2 pollution, park wildlife habitat destruction and the dissolution of scenic/aesthetic values over a much greater area than the footprint of the bubble itself. 

Even though Community Board 7's first public meeting to review the proposal was held on March 7, 2010,  the Parks Department said they had already chosen a concessionaire and was currently in negotiations. 

Neither the Department of Parks and Recreation, nor the Central Park Conservancy, appear to be interested in understanding the true impact of the bubble proposal since there are no plans for either an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Please sign the petition:  Please spread the word!

For more information - Please contact - Geoffrey Croft - NYC Park Advocates
(212) 987-0565  Email:

Our parks should not be used as cash cows. 

“The glory of Central Park is having developed a culture of recreation that in no way impinges on the Park's value as a soothing refuge and a contrast to the built city environment. In all seasons people can walk, run, bike, skate board, relax. All of these recreational activities are free to all citizens and all of them take place sympathetically with wildlife and the planted beauty of the Park."  - Sierra Club Resolution 


  1. My gratitude and thanks to all those who fought to keep our beloved park bubble-free.

  2. Congratulations! Great job on the advocates coming together on this, and so quickly. Its just goes to show when people work together what they can achieve.

    Also check out Benepe's pathetic comments on NY1.

    Its sad he thinks he needs to save face on everything. He's such a good little soldier.

    He really is an embarrassment.

  3. What do you think the value of all the land space taken up by Central Park in New York City? It must be worth billions!