To The Editor:
The United States Tennis Association has proposed a plan to maintain and improve its infrastructure and operations to keep the US Open a top-rated international event. The bold, multi-year, self funded strategic improvements outlined in the plan did not come about in a vacuum, but rather as a smart response to the international reality that the other Grand Slam Tournaments (Wimbledon, Australia Open and the French Open) are spending close to a combined $1 billion in improvements to their facilities while several other cities and governments throughout the world are currently building top notch facilities. These other activities are occurring for a single purpose, to take away business via elevated sponsor expectations and new industry setting standards, from the US Open, from Queens and from New York City. As Queens residents and New Yorkers, we must simply not allow this to happen.
Legitimate concerns have been raised by some community residents and several of my colleagues in elected positions about the protection of parkland in Flushing Meadow Corona Park. Considering the small and precious amounts of parkland in Queens I would tend to agree. However, as a representative of a district adjacent to the park who has recently been able to allocate one quarter of a million dollars to upgrade ball fields so the community can benefit from better facilities in the park, I do believe the characteristics of the space involved in this particular instance deserves to be considered. The fact is that not only is almost all of the upgrading of these facilities to be done inside that land that is currently leased, but the land outside is .68 acres and is currently an underutilized asphalt road.
The USTA has clearly done everything in its power to minimize the impact to the park when considering their bold self funded plans; self funding which stands in stark contrasts to almost every other facility that has received matching public dollars for rehabilitation or upgrades to their facilities. The USTA plan for that small parcel of land is to use the current asphalt road, which is one of three right next to each other, as a buffer made of brush to separate the facility from the park which will give that small piece of land in question much more of a feel of a park than it has now.
What will also be brought if the expansion is approved is a multi-phase project and new facilities that include top of the line enhancements to the Grandstand, a new Louis Armstrong Stadium at its current location along with a new retail/administration building, additional on-site parking, improvements to Arthur Ashe stadium, a new pedestrian walkway and upgrades to the Northwest and Southerly Tournament Courts. The projected $500 million expansion plan for the Tennis Center will be funded entirely by USTA.
The US Open generates over $750 million in revenue a year for New York City. Much of this money is spent on hotels, restaurants, entertainment and other purchases by the spectators. During the US Open, attendees, players, media, sponsors and staff account for 16 percent of the city’s total hotel occupancy. In Queens alone, the US Open is responsible for nearly 2,600 room nights. The US Open also creates 6,000 seasonal jobs, a majority of which go to local residents, and generates 127 full-time jobs for locals. In addition, the proposed expansion plan would net nearly 800 full-time jobs (some 80 jobs per year) for local residents over a 10-year construction period. These numbers will grow incrementally and significantly as each additional phase of this plan is complete.
In sum, residents of the surrounding communities, users of the park, patrons of the US Open and particularly Queens and New York City residents should weigh the benefits and look to coalesce around this project to enable the USTA to retain its top tier status for these international competitions. I believe the USTA has done an outstanding job developing this project and my colleagues and community leaders are right to express their reservations about any process that results in a loss of parkland. I therefore urge, in the strongest terms possible, that all parties involved come together on a plan to solve this issue so we can review it publicly and achieve what’s in the best interest of all New Yorkers.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi
To The Editor:
In recent months the Queens Tribune has published articles about the old Long Island Railroad Rockaway Beach line, inactive since 1962. Heavy traffic conditions daily on Woodhaven-Cross Bay Boulevards have prompted some to consider reactivating the line. Others have proposed turning the eyesore into a Queens Way park and bicycle path. A third option is to leave the unused tracks as they are.
Those whose property adjoins the tracks are opposed. I do sympathize with them to a degree, but there are other considerations that politicians, community boards, and residents must consider.
Anyone who travels on the boulevards daily knows the traffic conditions. The backup is horrendous, and it has been this way for decades. The combination Woodhaven-Cross Bay is the only north-south road from Queens Center south to the Belt Parkway. In 1962, there was no Queens Center, Aqueduct casino, as well as numerous schools and businesses and most of Howard Beach was not yet built. The populations of the neighborhoods along the route have grown dramatically, and today there are more multiple automobile families than in 1962. All of these have contributed to the immense traffic.
Those in the vicinity of the tracks are concerned about the noise and privacy issue. When moving there, they had to be aware that possibly someday the track line might be utilized again. We in Howard Beach live with planes flying just a few hundred feet over our homes. Residents on Woodhaven Boulevard tolerate traffic and vibrations, those near Aqueduct deal with crowds and the sounds of horses running, and some residents of Ozone Park have the A train travel right behind their homes. After a short time these conditions become a way of life and one learns to live with it.
Projections are that within the next decade or so New York City’s population will increase by one million. A portion of that will affect southern Queens. Along with proximity to JFK Airport, a casino at Aqueduct, and a vibrant shopping strip along Cross Bay Boulevard, the future traffic implications for southern Queens will be a nightmare. Unlike other parts of the city, there are very few traffic alternatives and choices here. A Queens Way will only produce more traffic. Reactivation of the LIRR line will not solve the traffic problem completely, but it is a partial solution.
I realize the concerns of those near the tracks, but the needs of all communities along the Woodhaven-Cross Bay corridor must be considered. Reactivation of the line will ease traffic, create jobs, and remove a deteriorated eyesore. Of the three options, it is the most viable and practical.