QUEENS — Supporters of the proposed U.S. Tennis Association expansion vastly outnumbered opponents at a Community Board 9 meeting in Kew Gardens on Tuesday, on the heels of a contentious meeting one night earlier in Flushing.
Union workers, tennis fans and a few Queens officials spoke in favor of the project at the Kew Gardens meeting, saying it would bring much-needed jobs and economic benefits to the borough.
Rob MacKay, director of tourism at the Queens Economic Development Corporation, said that the USTA is “a great economic engine through job creation and visitor attraction.”
He said the annual U.S. Open tennis tournament generates nearly $750 million a year in economic activity for the city and brings 800,000 spectators to Queens.
“In Queens alone, the tournament is responsible for nearly 2,600 hotel room nights,” he said. “This is a significant boost to our local economy, creating thousands of jobs.”
The tone was decidedly different from that of the Community Board 7 meeting held in Flushing on Monday, where opponents argued that the expansion would take away precious public parkland and destroy hundreds of trees.
The U.S. Tennis Association and the Parks Department have been making their presentations to each community board that represents neighborhoods located near Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
On Tuesday night, MacKay's arguments in support of the expansion were echoed by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, who chairs the City Council's Committee on Economic Development, and by business owners and union members who have done work for the Tennis Center.
Jack Leone, from Local Union 3, said he had been doing electrical work at the National Tennis Center for the past eight years.
“We live in a tough economy, so I’m grateful for the regular work I get at the NTC, which has a long history of hiring local union workers,” he said.
Tennis fans also came to speak in support of the expansion.
Jennifer Wu, a seventh-grader from Forest Hills, said she was grateful to the USTA.
“Thanks to them I’m able to play tennis every morning and after school. They make tennis affordable,” said Wu, who plays at the NTC facilities with New York Junior Tennis & Learning, an organization that offers numerous free tennis programs.
Danny Zausner, managing director of the Tennis Center, highlighted benefits from the planned expansion, which includes replacing the aging Louis Armstrong Stadium and building a new Grandstand Stadium and two parking garages.
“The project would generate an estimated 776 full-time jobs for Queens residents over a 10-year construction period,” he said.
He also said that the USTA is planning to work on park improvements, including converting two soccer fields, upgrading drainage in the area, installing a new set of bathrooms at Jurassic Playground, and building new picnic and barbecue areas in the park.
Joshua Laird, assistant commissioner for planning and parkland at the Parks Department, said the expansion proposal was the least controversial project of the three proposed for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The other two are a 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium and a shopping mall.
The USTA is requesting 0.68 acre of new public land, including one of the three rarely used road lanes built prior to the World's Fair, Laird said.
He added that he expects at least some of the 400 trees that would be affected by the USTA expansion would be replanted.
CB9 will vote on the proposal next month.