cb8 Looks to ace out tennis club

| 26 Jul 2016 | 12:26


In one of the city’s districts with the least green space per resident, the local community board and elected officials are jockeying with an upscale tennis club for use of a unique park.

The Queensboro Oval is a clay field located underneath the Queensboro Bridge on Sutton Place between 59th Street and 60th Street. But from September to June, the park is covered by an inflatable bubble enclosing eight tennis courts operated by the Sutton East Tennis Club, while in July and August it is host to nightly softball games and other activities.

Sutton East’s license agreement with the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation, for which it will pay $2.6 million this year, expires in August of 2017, and Community Board 8 and the club have submitted conflicting requests for proposals to the Parks department.

The community board, with support from elected officials representing the Upper East Side, seeks to completely change the makeup of the park and open it for public use year-round. The tennis club wants to expand the bubble’s time frame to the entire year, but would allow anyone with a city tennis permit to play there during the summer.

“The city engages on business on behalf of the people where oftentimes a special interest will win and get rich at the expense of the community, and my goal is to make sure that whether it’s the tennis oval or another location, the community should have a role in the process and there should be transparency around it,” said Councilman Ben Kallos, who supports the community board’s proposal.

Tony Scolnick, the director of the tennis club since its inception in 1979, contended that the undesirable location of the Oval makes it best used under a bubble.

“Do they want to have a park here with the loud noises of the bridge and the fumes coming off, or do they want to have a state-of-the-art tennis club that brings in large income?” he said.

Seasonal city tennis permits cost $200 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for minors, while single-play permits cost $15. By contrast, hourly court rentals at Sutton East range from $60 to $225, depending on the time of day, although nonprofits including City Parks Foundation are allotted some free court time.

While the park technically remains public throughout the year, it is widely considered private because of Sutton East’s fees. The community board hosted an event last month to rally support, and has vowed to continue their efforts by sending a steady stream of signed petitions to elected officials, creating a visual campaign of what the park could look like, and possibly having additional events.

“The Upper East Side has some of the least parkland of any neighborhood, with a growing population, so it becomes increasingly urgent that we get more parkland,” said Peggy Price, the co-chair of CB8’s parks committee. “Our position is that this is a designated public park and it should be returned to the taxpayers full time, year-round, and we believe public parks should not be privatized.”

Kallos said he would work with the community board to continue lobbying to open up the park.

“The goal is to keep up the pressure between now and 2017 so that the city doesn’t renew the lease,” he said. “Every elected official supports the community in returning the oval to the community; I haven’t heard one person opposing this. At this point, it’s been a generation of this not being given back to the community, and we want the $2.6 million used to improve it and return it to the public year-round.’

Kallos, though, acknowledged that the odds are against that happening. “I’m expecting an uphill battle,” he said.

The tennis club attracts 1,500 players a week, Scolnick said, while during the summer there are very few people on the field outside of the 38 evenings during which softball teams play on the uncovered field, which, proponents of opening the park year-around say, is compromised by the bubble’s leftover footprint.

The community board’s plan includes a total redesign of the park to increase the park’s potential uses. The board has suggested that the park could be converted to a multi-sports area with seating for relaxation and a monetized ice skating rink in the winter.

The Oval is within the Upper East Side’s District 5, which ranks 47th out of the city’s 51 districts in terms of park and playground space per resident, according to New Yorkers For Parks.

Asked to comment on the future of the oval, the Parks Department issued a statement from Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro identical to that provided in April.

“NYC Parks is currently evaluating options for the site’s future use,” the statement said. “In accordance with the rules of the City’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee, NYC Parks will review plans for any potential Requests for Proposals with the community board and invite its feedback.”

Scolnick said he would go along with the department’s decision.

“We’ve been here since 1979, we have a great relationship with Parks, and we’re going to respect whatever decision they make, he said. “We’re hoping that they make a decision for tennis.”