Friday, April 16, 2010

Parks Department Cancels Controversial Year-Round Tennis Concession After Uproar

The City tried to quietly turn the Queensboro Oval ballfield (left) over to a year-round private tennis facility - Sutton East Tennis Club - (right) without the knowledge of community residents.  Photo (right): Geoffrey Croft/ NYC Park Advocates 

By Geoffrey Croft 

Bowing to intense public opposition, the Parks Department announced last night that it was canceling a controversial plan to license a much beloved community ballfield to a private tennis concessionaire year-round. The Parks Department became embroiled in the controversy in January when the community was made aware that the city had already awarded a contract extension to Sutton East Tennis -  months before the community board had even had a hearing on the issue.  

For close to 100 years, The Queensboro Oval Field, located along York Avenue under the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan, has been a home to baseball, softball, soccer, families, joggers, dog walkers and children learning to ride bikes. It is the only publicly accessible lit, non-asphalt field available for miles. Even though this community has the least amount of park and open space in the entire city, Mayor Bloomberg and Assistant Parks Commissioner for revenue Betsy Smith were attempting to take away the park in order to accommodate a pay-to-play concessionaire who charges the highest rates of any tennis facility on city parkland - up to $ 180 dollars an hour.

The plan would have also allowed the concessionaire to charge $ 795 dollars per child, per week for a planned summer camp which would have displaced children when they have few options. Community members, ballfield users and NYC Park Advocates had argued this proposed use of parkland would not have constituted a public amenity but instead it would have allowed a private business to operate on city parkland.  This administration has continually tried to sell our city's public outdoor space by turning them into cash cows.

Last night the City finally backed down:

"I said in the end that we would take very seriously what the community board had to say about it and we did,"  Manhattan Parks Commissioner William Castro said late last night at a Community Board 8 meeting.  "And I'm happy to say we are not going forward with this proposal to extend the tennis bubble to the remaining months of the year. We are very, very pleased to do that. We do take very seriously what the community boards say."

On March 17, the community board voted nearly unanimously against the City's plan.

"Its very helpful to get feedback from the community, it was great - although it doesn't always feel that way when you are sitting there sometimes at these meetings," Commissioner Castro added. "But I've learned its very important and that you're actually able to do your job and your duty when you hear what real people say and what they are experiencing."

The announcement was met with applause.

In Other Tennis Bubble News: Community Board 8 voted last night to take "No Position"  yet on the Park Department's plan to install four, thirty-five foot bubbles in Central Park.  The Community Board heard passionate testimony against allowing this plan to go forward.  

On the Brain Leher show on Wednesday morning, 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.  Any question of Community Board 8's position should be crystal clear now according to the resolution passed last night.  

"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."

More than thirteen hundred people have signed Landmark West's online petition,  against installing the bubbles in the land marked park. At least three elected officials have joined the public's opposition to the plan.  Another point of controversy is 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 the community board had held a meeting on the issue. This while the Parks department is still maintaining that no decisions had been made.  The City could save 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. 
The Parks Department had even gone before Board 8 located 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. 

The next  Community Board 7 meeting on the tennis issue is tentatively scheduled for Thursday May 13th - Location (TBA)

The City Council is holding a hearing on Parks Department concessions on April 27t at 10:00 a.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.   

Read More:

New York Times - City Room - March 18, 2010 - By Elisa Mala 

NY 1 - March 17, 2010 - By  Rebecca Spitz

DNA info - March 17, 2010 - By Gabriela Resto-Montero  

A Walk in the Park - February 17, 2010

Central Park

Tennis bubbles pop up in the press, on the radio
Landmark West Blog - April 15, 2010

A Walk In The Park - March 18, 2010

West Side Spirt - March 18, 2010 - By Charlotte Eichna 

New York Post - March 16, 2010 - By Jeremy  Olshan


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