UPPER EAST SIDE — The Queensboro Oval tennis bubble will remain open year-round and six clay courts inside will be available to city permit holders beginning in June, following months of pressure by the community to make it more accessible to those who don't belong to the on-site tennis club.
From June 16 through Sept. 10, six of the club's eight courts will be open to those who have tennis permits at no extra cost, the city's Department of Parks and Recreation announced Wednesday.
Permit holders of all ages will be able to play between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily at the Oval, which sits underneath the Queensboro Bridge on York Avenue, between East 59th and 60th streets.
Usually during this time, the tennis bubble is taken down for the summer and residents with city softball permits use the space. Now, those softball players will be accommodated elsewhere at city parks and the bubble will remain up year-round, officials said.
The pilot program is meant to increase recreation at the Oval, which is owned by the city but operated by the Sutton East Tennis Club through a license agreement.
Annual adult tennis permis cost $100 and can be applied for online. Permits for seniors are $20, while those under 18 pay $10. Single-play permits cost $15.
Usually, the club charges up to $225 per court for an hour during peak times. During off-peak hours — weekday mornings, early afternoons, late nights and weekends — prices are typically around $13 per person for an hour of doubles or $510 per person for 10 hours of play, members said.
The club's owner, Tony Scolnick, said he is "tickled pink" about keeping the courts open for the summer for those who can pay the permitting fee.
"I think its going to be great because there are no public courts on the East Side," he said. "The program the commissioner is trying out is going to be very successful. People will be thrilled because when it rains in the summer they can't play outdoors. We believe thousands of people who play at our facility, if they don't have a permit, will go and get one. We are very happy to maintain the courts."
The City Parks Foundation, which works closely with the Parks Department to offer free tennis lessons to kids across the city, will be able to continue its free programming at the Oval year-round, according to Mike Silverman, the Foundation's director of sports.
"Any time new courts [are] available for us to offer free programs for kids, always a good thing," he said, noting that the Foundation serves roughly 6,000 kids. "In Manhattan, most of the courts are on the southern end or the northern end of the borough. To have a court in the middle of the borough will hopefully give more kids and parents more opportunity to do more of what we do."
Community Board 8 chairman Jim Clynes, who along with the board has pushed for the Oval to be transformed into a multi-sport green space, thanked Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver for taking "yet another step in the right direction to eventually return the Queensboro Oval Park to the public as a year round multi-recreational park," he said.
"With each step the public will finally be able to enjoy the Park throughout the entire year as we do with all are other Parks," he explained. "Community Board 8 looks forward to continuing to work with our Commissioner because we believe that Parks are for people, not for profit."
The news follows a decision made in February by the Parks Department to extend its lease with the Sutton East Tennis Club for another year, while the agency nails down a design for an alternative use for the space.
For the next year, the 1-acre park will remain active through the tennis club, much to the ire of many residents who wanted to see it immediately returned to an open-air park once the club's license agreement ended in September.
For roughly a year, Community Board 8 and other members of the community have been calling on the Parks Department to terminate ties with Sutton East and reopen the park as a multi-use space that they say the East Side is lacking.
After getting 1,000 signatures on a paper petition and holding a rally last summer to take the park back, the department agreed to take a look at the options, which include a full, multi-sport field, a smaller field with permanent tennis courts, and maintaining the tennis bubble while using it only six months out of the year.
Tennis players who are members at Sutton East have opposed any changes to the space, saying it's much-needed for the club, which pays the city more than $2 million each year to use the Oval. They came up with more than 3,000 signatures earlier this year to keep tennis at the site.