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$10M USTA Promised to Flushing Meadows Park Still in Limbo 2 Years Later

By Katie Honan | August 13, 2015 9:18am
 The Unisphere at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The Unisphere at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CORONA — The newly-renovated USTA center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is set to open later this month, but so far none of the $10.05 million promised in a 2013 deal with the community has been paid out, DNAinfo has learned.

The money was brokered as part of a community benefits agreement in 2013, before the city council approved the expansion of the tennis facilities inside the public park. 

The USTA agreed to pay $5.05 million to fund programming and upkeep at the park through a new alliance for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and $5 million to the Parks Department for the relocation of a road — but the conservancy, which was suggested by local community boards and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, hasn't been formed yet, officials said.

A spokesman for the USTA, Chris Widmaier, said they can’t make any payments until the two things are completed.

“The USTA’s first payment to the Parks Department is due upon completion of the southwest roadway relocation and official notification from the  Parks Department that the roadway project is complete,” he said. “As of today, the Alliance has yet to be created."

A spokeswoman for Ferreras said they have been working with the mayor’s office on the structure of the alliance — which was supposed to be created by 2015 — since the beginning of this year. But it's taken longer than they'd like, the office said.

“My vision for the [alliance] includes a balanced group of representatives that will guard the interest of the public and everyone who has a stake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park; and significant investments in beautification projects, upgrades to our cultural institutions and greater funding for programs for our residents," Ferreras said in statement.

"This park is a Queens icon and it’s my goal to have it remain that way for decades into the future."

Construction on the USTA facility on Aug. 12, 2015. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

When the deal was announced in July 2013, Councilwoman Ferreras lauded the plan and the USTA’s commitment to Queens. 

"USTA has agreed to commit long-term and ongoing community outreach programs," she said at the time. The alliance, she said, would be created by 2015 and operate similar to ones in Central and Prospect parks.  

The Tent of Tomorrow, which is being repainted for free with labor by the painter's union. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said they are working on the formation but didn't say how often they've met about it or how far along they are in the process."The administration is fully committed to establishing this Alliance and is working closely on this project with stakeholders and community members to ensure that the alliance best represents and serves the needs of the local community," de Blasio's spokeswoman said in a statement.

The road construction should be finished by the end of this summer, the Parks Department said.

Since the USTA moved the U.S. Open from Forest Hills to Flushing Meadows in 1978, they have paid the city $400,000 annually plus one percent of net revenues, for a total of approximately $1.2 to $1.5 million, depending on how much revenue is generated during the Open, USTA officials said.

In 1993, the USTA paid $8 million for the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Improvement Fund, with nearly all of that going towards the Al Oerter Recreation Center, according to an official.

They also donated $5,000 for the World's Fair Anniversary Festivals in 2014 and 2015, a Parks official said.

Park activists said they're eager to see the city move ahead with the board to free up the money, which will inject much-needed funds into the borough's largest park. 

Jeanne Silva, who formed the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy in 2002, said she was approached to join the group’s board of advisors but not to join the full board.

“We don't know who's on the board,” she said.

“We would love to know who is going to be on it. Who actually makes a decision on this money?”