UPPER EAST SIDE — Parks Department permit-holders who had been eagerly awaiting the start of the softball season this week at a park beneath the 59th Street bridge were shocked to find the field disheveled and covered in debris — as both the city and the private tennis club that used the space during the winter and spring blamed each other for the condition.
Officials from Sutton East Tennis Club, which has operated out of the city-owned Queensboro Oval park for the past 36 years, said they removed their heated tennis bubble from the space at Sutton Place between 59th and 60th streets on Monday, June 15 — the same day softball league play was supposed to begin, according to the Parks Department website.
The end date of the tennis club's contract with the city was June 15 and there was no way they could prep the fields for play the same day, according to Tony Scolnick, director of the Sutton East club.
"Whoever scheduled a game on the 15th made a mistake," Scolnick said.
He also added that it took more than 50 people working "around the clock" amid rainy conditions to break down the bubble over the weekend and that trucks took the bubble away at 7 a.m. Monday. He said Tuesday that the fields would need an additional layer of clay and time to drain at least through the weekend before being play-ready. But on Wednesday, he accelerated the timeline, saying they were spreading 30 yards of clay down on the courts and expected them to be ready for leagues by Wednesday afternoon.
"Quite frankly, we've never been late getting the field broken down," Scolnick added.
Officials at the Parks Department wrote in an email to DNAinfo New York on Tuesday that they expected the fields to be ready for play by 5 p.m. Wednesday, and blamed the 48-hour delay on inclement weather.
"Following the official end of the indoor tennis season, scheduled clean up and restoration of the field unfortunately had to be delayed due to rain," the department said in a statement.
A Parks Department spokesman did not immediately respond to inquiries about the official end date of the indoor tennis season or confirm the end date of Sutton East's contract.
Meanwhile, players who have seen their available time on the field steadily shrinking in the past five years, say they're fed up with what they called the latest encroachment on public space by private concessions.
"This is further abuse to the time of our already-short season," Bradley Cohen, a longtime Upper East Sider who holds a $400 season permit to use the field on Tuesday nights, said after stopping by the field on Monday and discovering it marred by deep grooves in the clay, dotted with plastic sheeting and littered with debris and construction equipment.
When Sutton East began using the Queensboro Oval in the late 1970s, it originally had a six-month operating permit, which gradually extended over the years to eight months.
In 2010, the city's Franchise Concession Review Committee authorized the Parks Department to approve Sutton East to take over the park year-round, but that arrangement was scrapped amid criticism of the decision, which critics blasted as a back-door deal, as well as vocal opposition from members of the community who use the park during the summer months.
In 2012, the tennis club quietly received an additional six weeks of the year to use the site, pushing the beginning of the park's softball season from May into June.
Sutton East, which charges upwards of $100 for hourly prime-time use of its courts, paid the city $2,278,163 in license fees in the 2014 fiscal year.