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Queens Residents Slam Proposed US Tennis Center Expansion

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | February 12, 2013 3:00pm

QUEENS — Activists and residents called a proposed $500 million U.S. Tennis Association expansion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park a “land grab” during a meeting Monday night in an attempt to sway the community board's parks committee, which is considering the issue later this week.

According to the USTA website, the project calls for replacing the aging Louis Armstrong Stadium, building a new Grandstand Stadium and two parking garages. A new walkway would also be built and seven courts would be replaced and linked by a new, elevated viewing platform.

A .68-acre strip of the park would be permanently turned over of to the USTA, adding to its 42-acre complex.

But Queens residents voiced a number of concerns ahead of the board's consideration of the issue Wednesday.

“They already have a huge chunk of land and now they want more,” John Kelly, a retired Flushing resident, said at Monday's meeting. “Do you think they would try to commercially develop Central Park or Prospect Park? I think not."

Another Queens resident, Ben Haber, accused the USTA of not being a good neighbor.

"There is no justification for the USTA's request other than they want to make more money, the bulk of which goes into the pockets of the professional players and its commitments throughout the United States — not Queens," he said. “Your obligation is to protect the park not just for the current residents of Queens, but for generations as yet unborn.” 

But the USTA claims it invests close to $1 million in programs that benefit Queens, by providing the use of free tennis equipment and offering training opportunities to more than 70 public schools, according to its website.

A long line of speakers opposing the expansion included a representative from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy and a representative from New Yorkers for Parks pressed for a more substantial partnership between the USTA and park-goers.

Many mentioned two other controversial projects that have been proposed for the park: a 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium and a shopping mall.

A statement from state Sen. Tony Avella, who strongly opposes the USTA expansion, was also read at the meeting.

“In my opinion, this is perhaps the biggest land grab of parkland not only in Queens, but also in the entire city,” the statement read. “Parkland is sacred. The three projects will result in elimination of crucial parkland from our borough’s most prominent park, which provides open space and recreational benefits to thousands of borough residents."

Edwin Westley from Community Board 3, which includes Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and North Corona, said he believed more than 400 mature trees would be chopped down - citing an environmental  study - and that the project would significantly increase transportation problems in the area.

“I would urge you to vote 'no',” he told CB7 members. “I know my Community Board is going to vote 'no' on this proposition.”

But USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said that "the actual land (the .68-acre strip) is asphalt road, it's not greenery."

"It's one of the three lanes that are used to service the park that were put in there prior to the World's Fair," he said.

Widmaier also said that all the trees will be replaced, although he said he was not familiar with the numbers cited by Westley.

"We want to be a good neighbor," Widmaier said.

CB7 chairman Eugene Kelty, asked to comment on the issue, said he will “let the committee make the recommendation."