Community Boards Discuss USTA Expansion
By Luis Gronda
Several Queens Community Boards have sounded off on the proposed expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Community Boards 6 and 9 both hosted a presentation by the USTA last week and its plan to acquire 0.68 acres of land in the park, where it hosts the U.S Open every summer.
The USTA hopes to buy the small sliver of land, in part, so that it could build a brand-new Grandstand stadium on the southwest corner of the property. The plan also includes renovating Louie Armstrong Stadium, which USTA officials say is in need of a modernization, and shifting down a section where some of the smaller courts are located, to allow more walking space for people while attending matches.
“What we want to do is use this opportunity to improve the site, make it a world-class facility and make sure it continues to have a positive economic impact for Queens and the City,” said Gordon Smith, USTA’s executive director and chief operating officer.
Opponents of the plan were concerned over the amount of trees that could be lost as a result of the project, as well as the green space it would take up.
“Somewhere along the line, they’re going to have to put a moratorium on building in Flushing Meadows Park,” said Maria Thomson, a member of Community Board 9 and executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District. “They’re eating up the park. Enough is enough.”
Ed Westley, a member of Community Board 3, said he is concerned about the number of extra people the expansion would bring to the area, arguing that the transportation options may not be able to handle the extra thousands of people that would go to the games while the tournament is being played. He added that the amount of time needed for the construction would also be a problem.
“We know that that’s going to affect us,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to be easily done and turned over.”
Another concern was the number of trees that would be lost while construction is taking place. Westley said that some of the trees are types that are considered in danger and would be difficult to replace. As many as 422 trees could be lost, according to the USTA’s presentation on their plan.
In response to that, Joshua Laird, assistant commissioner for Planning and Natural Resources for the City Parks Dept., said that trees lost in the project would be replaced, either by planting several smaller trees to take place of a large one, or it could be transplanted in a way that would not kill the tree.
Sarah Nikolic, who lives in Rego Park, said that the potential long-term damage to the park and its land outweighs short-term benefits, such as the construction jobs, that it would bring to that part of the Borough.
“The construction jobs, which we realize are important to a lot of people here and in our community, would come and then be gone, but the park won’t be able to come back,” she said.
In contrast, people who support the USTA’s plan say that it will boost the Borough’s economy and help bring jobs to the area as well.
“The visiting teams and their families stay at hotels in Corona, Flushing, East Elmhurst and elsewhere, they dine at local restaurants, they shop at local businesses,” said Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, who was speaking about the economic impact youth teams have on the area throughout the year.
Andrew Eichenholz, a Forest Hills resident who goes to Townsend Harris High School, was one of a few young adults and children to attend both meetings in support of the USTA. Like Eichenholz, they all said that the USTA gives them a chance to use the courts year-round and play their tournament games there as well.
“I’m forever grateful to the USTA because, thanks to them, I’ve had the ability to take tennis lessons for most of my life,” he said, adding that he has also served as a ball boy at the U.S Open in 2010.
Joseph Hennessey, Chairman of Community Board 6 said that while the USTA probably needs to renovate the stadiums and area that encompass the tennis center, he would like to see more money made from the tournament go back into Flushing Meadows Park and Queens.
“If they’re getting all this money from USTA, the city should be pushing some of that money back into the Borough of Queens so that we can maintain that park,” Hennessey said.
Reach Reporter Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127 or at email@example.com.