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Local News January 17, 2013  RSS feed

Coalition: USTA Expansion Foul

Wants Tennis Org To Replace Parkland

The Fairness Coalition of Queens and local elected officials have joined together to demand that the United States Tennis Association (USTA) replace any parkland that is lost to its proposed expansion plans at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Reportedly, the USTA submitted plans to the City Planning Commission last Monday, Jan. 7 to take more parkland to add to their 46-acre site at Flushing Meadows Park. Although the USTA is an institution with millions of dollars in surplus, the coalition claims that it refuses to replace the parkland that will be used for the expansion.

The USTA plan calls for a new 15,000-seat stadium and two new parking garages to be built on parkland. Additionally, to construct the new stadium, a major access road would be moved. The coalition stated that this would make pedestrian access for residents of Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst, and East Elmhurst much more difficult.

“Parkland is precious. Once it’s lost, it’s lost forever. It is imperative that every inch of parkland that is taken away from public access by this USTA expansion must be replaced by comparable parkland nearby. It would very difficult for me to support any proposal to expand the USTA that does not include a proposal for replacement parkland,” said City Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who represents the district that includes Flushing Meadows Park.

“Public green space is a vital part of our community. As the USTA seeks to expand their footprint in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, they should be held to the same standard as everyone else, and replace any parkland that is alienated,” added Assemblyman Francisco Moya. “Even if this parcel of parkland being alienated is small, the requirements are the same. The resulting changes should only increase the access to parkland for residents of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona.”

“Open space is at a premium in many parts of Queens, particularly in the densely populated communities closest to the park,” State Sen. Jose Peralta said. “Although the USTA proposal calls for the alienation of less than an acre, every inch of newly alienated parkland needs to be replaced.”

Flushing Meadows Park is used by local families for recreation, family gathering, soccer, baseball, cricket, picnics, boating, running, and other exercise. According to the coalition, 75 percent of the population in the communities surrounding Flushing Meadows are people of color. Of the total population in these areas, 40 percent live below the poverty. Corona alone also reportedly has a 51 percent childhood obesity rate, which is considered to be among the worst in the city.

The coalition stated that 20,000 people play soccer every week in the organized soccer leagues alone, not to mention all of the other users.

The USTA expansion is one of three current development proposals for Flushing Meadows Corona Park. In total, the various plans call for building a shopping mall adjacent to Citi Field, two stadiums (including a 25,000-seat soccer arena), parking garages, new roads and other major changes to the park.

Many community members are also concerned that although USTA site is on public land, it is not truly ‘open’ to the public, as it is fenced in around the perimeter. The USTA charges approximately $40 to 60 per hour for the courts—with that money kept by the USTA, the coalition added.

It is said that this cost puts the courts effectively out of the price range of most of the surrounding community of working class families.

During professional tennis events such as the U.S. Open, the coalition argued, there has been a long history of quality of life issues such as cars parked on park grass, obstructing access to the park, and preventing community soccer teams from playing in the park.

“The USTA is pushing to build a larger stadium within the park without replacing the park land that they will be taking away,” said Maria Alvarado, member of Make the Road New York and resident of Queens. “To us that is unacceptable We need to make sure that the USTA replaces all the parkland that it proposes to take away,"

"The hard-working families that live and worship in congregations near the park who utilize it frequently, feel that the USTA is not at all accessible to the local community," said Joseph McKellar, executive director of the Queens Congregations United for Action. “Many families in these neighborhoods think that there is a huge imbalance of USTA community reinvestment when considering how much money they make compared to how much they do for the local community which is giving them this land.”