UPPER EAST SIDE —A private tennis club is going to get an extra six weeks of serving time in the city park underneath the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge every year for the next five years, all because they invested in an expensive air conditioner, Parks Department officials said Thursday night.
Though the community complained about losing its ball field during prime softball playing season, Assistant Parks Commissioner Betsy Smith told Community Board 8 Thursday night that the club’s investment in its temporary tennis bubble — of a $200,000 air conditioning system — justified giving it another month and a half.
“We still have all the summer months, from late June through July and August,” Smith told residents, who will be able to use the park starting June 15. “This is a compromise. This is not going to make everyone happy. We thought it was a reasonable way to accommodate competing uses.”
When the Sutton East Tennis Club brokered a deal two years ago with the Parks Department to use the space year-round, fierce local opposition defeated that plan. The bubble was cleared to remain on the site for eight months of the year, and was supposed to let park-users onto the space for the remaining four months.
But in February, the Parks Department quietly inked a deal giving the tennis club six more weeks on the space through 2017 — because of the club’s investment, Smith said. She did not provide any documentation regarding the investment when asked.
Park advocates railed against the plan, which they said was done under cover of secrecy, and said the park is used by many in the area and beyond.
“The field has a million uses,” said Fred Bondy, who in his 45 years living in the area taught his three children and six grandchildren to ride bikes there. “It’s morally not right to take public parkland, for rich and poor, young and old, and rent it out to a for-profit business.”
All of the leagues with permits for the Queensboro Oval were given alternative sites for the six weeks they’re displaced, said Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro. Three of the six accepted, he said.
“How can you honestly say you’re compromising when we used to have [the park] six months?” said softball player Angelo Abbate, whose league was relocated to 130th Street. “Now we have it two and a half months and they have it nine and half months. You have made it a private tennis center with $190 an hour lessons. In another two years, they’ll have it 12 months.”
When asked if year-round tennis was still a possibility, Castro said, “We’re not anticipating it at this time,” but added, “We’re not going to say no or yes.”
Castro said that the city would not give the softball teams an additional six weeks in the fall — as Community Board 8 had requested — but officials would return in three weeks to discuss the park’s use in future years.
“We heard your concerns. We will take them seriously,” he said.
The city will see no additional revenue from giving the additional six weeks to the tennis club, officials said.
But Smith said the minimum $2 million a year Sutton East already pays the city is a higher percentage of revenue than other for-profits for access to parkland.