Thursday, December 15, 2011

Randall’s Island Tennis Expansion FCRC Hearing Abruptly Canceled

(from right) Ben Schlansky (slouching) from Sportime NY, and Randall's Island Sports Foundation's (RISF) Aimee Boden, Executive Director & Park Administrator, Deborah Maher, General Counsel, and David Salerno, Concessions & Events Manager, at the CB 11 meeting Monday night.

"Our children are not being protected in this discussion," said a community member. (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on photo to enlarge.

At the very end of the meeting it was revealed that Sportime NY and RISF were going before the FCRC on Wednesday to begin negotiating an amendment to the existing license agreement to allow the building of an additional nine tennis courts on the Island.


By Geoffrey Croft

A Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) hearing on the proposed Randall's Island tennis expansion hearing was abruptly cancelled an hour before the meeting after a number of elected officials were expected to oppose the expansion A Walk in the Park has learned. The Parks Department and Randall's Island Sports Foundation pulled out according to several city sources.

The Parks Department was seeking authorization and approval from the FCRC to negotiate an amendment to the existing License Agreement between Island Tennis, L.P. (AKA Sportime NY) - home of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy - and Randall’s Island Sports Foundation to allow the building of an additional nine (9) tennis courts, up from the current twenty (20).

Comptroller John Liu, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito all wanted the hearing by the Franchise Concession Review Committee to be postponed because the Randall's Island Sports Foundation has not released requested financial and usage information.

"My community has raised serious concerns regarding the existing $19 million concession and its proposed expansion," Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito wrote in a letter sent to the FCRC today.

"As the Council Member that represents this area, and the Chair of the Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee, I share many of these concerns and believe that further review and community discussion is needed before the Franchise Concession Review Committee (FCRC) considers this item.

Manhattan Community Board 11 has asked Sportime NY and the Randall's Island Sports Foundation to provide important information pertaining to the operating of the existing facility," she continued.

"The information requested includes usage and access data concerning the facilities benefit to the residents of the surrounding communities including East Harlem and the South Bronx, two areas that I represent, as well as Central Harlem. The Board has also asked for pertinent finical information. To date, they have not received this information."

“Comptroller Liu is grateful that the city withdrew the proposal and expects that the community will at last get some answers to their questions and concerns about the proposed expansion of the tennis center," spokesman Matthew Sweeney told DNAinfo.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's office said today they had informed Aimee Boden of his decision not to vote in favor of the proposal.

"The Borough President is concerned that the city....and Sporttime have not adequately consulted community stakeholders about this project and have also not been sufficiently transparent with information about the existing 20 tennis courts and the extent to which they can be made more accessible to the surrounding community and general public," said a Stringer spokesperson.

"Sportime requested that their item be postponed from today's FCRC agenda as it was not time sensitive and it will be rescheduled for a later date."

Parks Department spokesman Phillip Abramson said, Sportime requested that their item be postponed from today's FCRC agenda as it was not time sensitive and it will be rescheduled for a later date. The request was "for permission to negotiate an amendment to the current Sportime Licence Agreement". As Sportime will be entering into ULURP over the next 30 months - the have 1 1/2 years to revisit the amendment."

In 2009 Sportime NY built a 160,00 square foot, $ 19 million dollar tennis facility which avoided ULURP. Many people in the community contend they are not benefiting from the taking of public parkland.

Sportime Randall's Island charges between $72 to $105 per hour for indoor courts, on top of fees of $500-750 to join, in addition to monthly dues as high as $ 286 for a family. (They have more than 2,000 members) Tennis lessons run as high as $ 5,950 for one hour lessons for 34 weeks. One camp charges $ 500 a day for non-members (transportation and food is extra).

Prices charged by the John McEnroe tennis academy range from $3,600 to $4,800 for 34 weeks of two-hour lessons. McEnroe's brother Mark is the general manager of the $ 19 million dollar facility.

Last year the existing facility made $ 9 million dollars. And out of 120,450 total playing hours available last year, Sportime made just 370 hours available free to the "community, " according to Sportime. (That comes to just 0.31% of total hours) They have proposed this expansion without providing any breakdown of existing community use or any financial information including projected revenue.

At another very contentious CB 11 meeting on Monday night, Sportime and the Randall's Island Sports Foundation were repeatedly asked to provide projected revenue for the expanded facility. They claimed they did not have it. They expected the East Harlem community to believe that they are investing $ 6-7 million dollars to build this facility on public parkland yet they had no idea what to expect financially.

The plan was also criticized by numerous people as a privatization of public parkland. Sportime and RISF were also taken to task for not having information that had been asked for at the previous meeting.

"I have to intervene because this is something that really irks me," said a visably annoyed Melissa Mark-Viverito, the area's Councilwoman.

"This community is consistently disrespected. If this was the board of the Randall's Island Sports Foundation and you had a committee on transportation and a committee on land use meeting on separate weeks and the committee on land use was saying, 'oh we have all these questions' you bet you would come the next week prepared. Our community deserves no less."

15-Love, Tennis-Plan Foes

The city's Franchise and Concession Review Committee abruptly canceled its hearing yesterday on a Parks Department plan to add more private tennis courts on Randall's Island. “Clearly, the FCRC and the city are beginning to feel the pressure by community members and elected officials,” said Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who had asked how many East Harlem and South Bronx residents use the $72-an-hour courts. The Parks Department and mayor's office did not return calls for comment. - Crain's New York Business - December 15, 2011

Read More:

DNAinfo - December 15, 2011 - By Jeff Mays

The Epoch Times - December 14, 2011 - By Ivan Pentchoukov

A Walk In The Park - Decmber 9, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft


  1. the guy slouching is so representative right there, and the other one should retire!

  2. Great article and what a community victory... shady people they are in that pic

  3. It is incredibly disrespectful. They come before the community NOW that they have already built that huge facility and are looking to expand. They don't answer questions, and half the community board ask the most irrelevant questions. Wake up! These people are running a private business on public park land that is clearly doing little to benefit the people. And when it was repeatedly stated that the community was not benefitting any where near enough (370 hours total last year) - Ben Schlansky, the Sportime rep. actually stood there and repeated, "That's your opinion. " Clearly these guys have no idea what working with the community is - not to mention basic community relation skills. And they want to take more parkland to expand?!! No way.

    And on top of that RISF gets to keep a nice percentage of the concession revenue. Aren't concession revenues supposed to go to the city general fund?

  4. amazing, thanks, they made $9 million on our public land, totally insane, and crumbs, merely crumbs, the shame is the elected officials let this happen. maybe now they will stop the expansion proposed

  5. Congratulations, the 99% can win and stop privatization!