Thursday, February 14, 2013

USTA Expansion Plan Comes To CB 9

Ben Haber addressing Community Board 9 on Tuesday night, Mr. Haber urged Parks Committee and full Board to reject the USTA’s expansion application.

The USTA's strategy for that night was to parade the union construction trades, business representatives and people affiliated with the USTA who filled the room. 

In a strange turn of events the communty board had the public speek before the USTA presentation. How the public is qualified to speak about a proposal that they have not yet heard was troublesome. 

"We are not talking about reducing the exorbitant fees the USTA charges residents to use their courts in our park," said Mr. Haber.  (full letter below) 

"Last year the USTA made $275 million and paid the city a paltry $2.5 million – an amount I suspect is less than the city’s annual budget for chalk. In short ladies and gentlemen, we are not talking about something that represents an insignificant intrusion in our park, but one that is major. "

Ed Westley, Jackson Heights Beautification Group president and CB 3 member spoke out against the project.

"If Henry Stern were here he would be blocking this with his body, " Mr. Westley said referring to the former parks commissioner. 

"I urge you not to approve this proposal by the USTA for the children and for the people of 

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz came spoke in favor of the project. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz came spoke in favor of the project. 

The board votes on March 9th.      - Geoffrey Croft

The expansion of the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park dominated Tuesday’s meeting of Community Board 9 at the Kew Gardens Community Center, as board members unloaded a barrage of questions to the Parks Department and United States Tennis Association about the plan, according to the Queens Chronicle.
Though very little of the park sits in CB 9, which includes Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill, board members expressed concern about the potential effects of the project on the park itself, especially when considered alongside the proposed soccer stadium and and shopping mall plan near Citi Field. The USTA is seeking to expand its presence by taking less than an acre of parkland near the Unisphere.

“Somewhere along the line, they’re going to have to put a moratorium on building in Flushing Meadows,” said CB 9 member Maria Thomson. “Enough is enough.”
Discussion of the plan came after a lengthy public hearing in which a few local residents expressed their opposition to the idea, while others, including union workers and members of a local tennis program, pushed the importance of the plan to the economy and the sport.
Most notably, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) threw her support behind the idea at the meeting, becoming the first Queens council member to speak openly in favor of it.
“I believe this project is good for our economy,” she said. “And our economy needs help.”
Jack Friedman, executive vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, also endorsed the plan at the meeting.
“This project will bring good-paying union jobs to Queens,” Friedman said. He added that the USTA allowed the Chamber to put up a kiosk at last year’s US Open promoting Queens businesses.
But one local resident, Benjamin Haber, asked the board to oppose the expansion, arguing that the US Open often leads to more traffic in the community and said it offered little benefit. He also noted USTA moved its headquarters from Manhattan to Westchester County.
“So much for loyalty to New York City,” he said.
Geoffrey Croft of NYC Parks Advocates said the USTA had promised in the 1990s to not expand their campus onto more parkland, a concern shared by CB 9 member Alexander Blenkinsopp.
“How are we sure you won’t come back and ask for more land in the future?” Blenkinsopp asked.

USTA COO Dan Zausner (L)  and Joshua Laird.

Joshua Laird, assistant commissioner for planning and parkland at the Parks Department, said the plan would require 0.68 acre of what is currently mapped as parkland between the tennis center and the Unisphere. Laird said many of the trees that will be removed for the project may be replanted elsewhere in the park.
“There are ways for us to transplant the trees so we don’t lose them,” he said.
The board is expected to vote on the proposal at their March meeting.
Read More:
Queens Chronicle - February 14, 2013 -  By Domenick Rafter

My name is Ben Haber. I am here tonight to urge your Parks Committee and this Board to reject the USTA’s current application concerning Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Please keep in mind the application is not simply a request for 0.68 acre of parkland on top of the 42 acres it already has, but in addition it is to build a new stadium to replace the grand stand and to rebuild a much larger Louis Armstrong Stadium. We are talking about constructing two new garages including a 423 space 2 level garage and a 270 space 3 level garage. We are talking about removing hundreds of trees. We are talking about a major increase in vehicular traffic in the area. We are not talking about reducing the exorbitant fees the USTA charges residents to use their courts in our park. Last year the USTA made $275 million and paid the city a paltry $2.5 million – an amount I suspect is less than the city’s annual budget for chalk. In short ladies and gentlemen, we are not talking about something that represents an insignificant intrusion in our park, but one that is major. 

    When the USTA decided to leave Forest Hills, it did not do so to serve a public purpose. It did not do so out of any desire to help government. It did so to make money. It saw an opportunity to do so by taking free of charge, a huge portion of Flushing Meadows Corona Park (FMCP) that if we were talking about selling off park land, would be worth billions of dollars. The taking was an economic steal of taxpayer property. The USTA promised at the time it would not thereafter ask for more park property, a promise that turned out to be as worthless as a dead tennis ball, because it did in fact come back and extort more park land. After its initial taking, the USTA promptly moved its head office out of Manhattan to Harrison in Westchester County; so much for its loyalty to New York City.

     Comes now the USTA for a further intrusion in  the park. Enough is enough, the time has come to say NO. Do not be swayed by the NYC Parks Department. Its treatment of FMCP is a national disgrace, one that in my opinion should cause it to be indicted for malfeasance in office. And do not be influenced by unfounded claims of an economic windfall for the taxpayers of this city. Sports activities in this city do not account for more than 7/10th of one percent of the city’s gross economic product, an amount that can be equated with the tip one gives the youngster who delivers your groceries. It does not put more police or fire fighters on the streets, or more and better class rooms and  staff. Fans catch the game and when its over they catch the train home. They do not stop to shop in Queens. If you need any proof that sports activities in this city do not in any significant economic way affect the standard of living of New Yorkers, keep in mind that when the Jets, the Giants and the Dodgers left, New York City did not fall into bankruptcy. We flourished without them. There is no reason to be intimidated by the USTA.

     Do not be concerned that if you say no, the USTA will move out of the park. Greedy they are, but not stupid. They will not give up what for them, “as is”, is a great deal, and should be more than ample. They will stay put. If you do not believe parks are the lifeblood of an urban society, then give it away.  But if that is what you want to do, please do not settle for pennies. If you approve the continued abuse of Flushing Meadows Corona, you should press the City to de-list it as a park in our municipal system, The land can them be sold to the highest bidder which will involve hundreds of billions of dollars, an amount that will balance our city’s budget for decades. Of course the cost will also be the destruction of a much needed park that serves the poor and the middle class, but who cares about them? With due respect, your obligation is to protect the park for not just the current residents of Queens, but for generations as yet unborn.

      There is no justification for the USTA’s request, other than they want to make more money, the bulk of which goes into the pockets of the professional players and the USTA’s commitments throughout the United States, not Queens. Please do not buy into this nonsense that it is okay to keep dumping on FMCP because it is different. It is not different. There is nothing in the City Charter that designates it is different from any other park in the municipal system. This is a political ploy manufactured by Donald Manes, the late discredited Queens Boro President when he wanted to construct a Grand Prix race track in the park, and thereafter claimed by inept politicians who viewed their constituents as real estate and big business cronies and not the little people who need the park. Finally, in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s New York City did not sell or alienate park land for so-called economic reasons. and under no circumstances should responsible public officials equate public park land with private for-profit businesses. It would be akin to mixing oil and water. .

     Please do the right thing and reject the request. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak. I am leaving copies of my remarks and ask they be considered part of your record.

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