The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Upscale Tennis Center Serves Up Rematch in Fight Over Use of Park

By Amy Zimmer | April 13, 2012 7:33am
The Sutton East Tennis Club's bubble under the Queensboro Bridge. The club quietly got Parks to extend its lease six weeks and cut into softball season.
The Sutton East Tennis Club's bubble under the Queensboro Bridge. The club quietly got Parks to extend its lease six weeks and cut into softball season.
View Full Caption
Jennifer Glickel / DNAinfo

UPPER EAST SIDE — The Sutton East Tennis Club is gearing up for a rematch with opponents fighting its planned use of parkland underneath the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge.

Just two years after the area's community board resolutely rejected the private club's attempt to extend the lease of its tennis bubble at the publicly-owned Queensboro Oval on East 59th Street from eight months to year-round, Sutton East quietly made an agreement with the Parks Department to serve up six more weeks of court time.

Ending the tennis season in mid-June rather than in May cuts into the softball leagues that have had permits to play at the oval for decades, said several players who showed up to voice their opposition at a Community Board 8 Parks Committee meeting Wednesday night.

"This is an absolute disgrace that we're here again talking about the privatization of public park land," Geoffrey Croft, of NYC Parks Advocates, said at the meeting, noting that the club charges $195 an hour for a private lesson.

"This isn't for the average human being."

Croft noted that Sutton East's advertisements from the winter were already promoting court rates for a 26-week season from December through June 8, he said.

But the agreement only came to light recently when Parks Department officials told softball leagues with permits for the Oval they'd have to relocate, moving some from the Midtown spot up to Inwood Hill Park, players said. Parks officials said they offered alternative spots to all leagues for those six weeks.

But CB 8 members cried foul.

The board's Parks Committee co-chair, Barbara Rudder, said overturning the tennis club's agreement to be at the park year-round was "one of my proudest moments as a community board member."

She and other members passed a resolution Wednesday — which will head to the full board next week — calling for the Parks Department to cut the club's season short by six weeks in the fall, so ball players can keep playing in September and early October. They reaffirmed their opposition to extending the club's lease.

The Parks Department, however, still believes that Sutton East should be at the space year-round.

"Given the alternative to have literally thousands of children and adults playing tennis all summer at what was a dark, unplanted and atypical park space mostly underneath a bridge, the Commissioner's decision to extend the bubble year round was reasonable," Betsy Smith, Parks Department assistant commissioner, wrote in an April 6 email to Rudder.

Though the Parks Department nixed the year round plans after hearing community concerns, Smith said that the tennis club "had already made a substantial investment to convert the bubble to a year-round operation," and the department wanted to address the club's "legitimate concerns."

She said the six-week extension was signed and in effect.

"Our observations over the last two summers have confirmed that the site is underused by softball players," Smith wrote, "and our feeling remains that a year-round tennis facility would be a valuable recreational amenity that would serve many more New Yorkers."

Softball players and area residents bristled at that notion, as did local bar owners who appreciated the teams bringing business to them.

"No one is asking to take away the bubble in the winter months," said Bradley Cohen, who has been playing ball at the Oval for nearly 30 years.

He worried that the club has been slowly grabbing more time since the 1970s, when it only had a six-month lease. "Then we lost two months along the way," he said, referring to April and September.

The uncertainty has made it challenging for park users, he said.  "No one can schedule. No one can plan."

Resident Monica McLaughlin added, "We are the 99 percent. We don't have to justify how we use our land."

But a resident who lives nearby at East 61st Street told the board, "Sutton Tennis is the best thing that has happened to the neighborhood," saying she didn't think the bridge-covered space was an "appropriate park for children to run around."

Sutton East did not respond to calls for comment.