Central Park Tennis Bubble Like ‘Post-it Note on a Picasso’

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Mel Wymore, chair of Community Board 7, told East Side community board members April 15 that more time was needed to review a controversial proposal to cover the Central Park tennis courts with bubbles during the winter.
“It is about the taking of public property and making it private, and that is a consideration that really demands a public process that is much more involved than what has taken place here,” Wymore said during the public session of Community Board 8’s parks committee meeting. “At face value, tennis in the park sounds great. But when you really think about it, it is more like putting a Post-it note on a Picasso. You really have to think about what the impacts of this are long term, what precedents it sets and what are the underlying rationales for making this happen.”
Board 7’s parks and preservation committee has given the tennis bubble proposal a cool reception during the past few months, and is scheduled to take up the matter again at a May 13 meeting.

A proposal to cover the Central Park tennis courts with bubbles during colder months is gathering more detractors.

But Board 8’s parks committee has been more open to constructing four, 35-foot opaque bubbles over all but two of the courts. In February 2009, the committee agreed to support the bubbles in “concept” and approved the Parks Department’s plans to “hire an outside organization to develop, maintain and operate the proposed indoor facility in Central Park.”
At the April 15 meeting, however, Board 8’s parks committee backed off its support and decided to wait before taking a position. The committee’s resolution also requested “the speedy receipt of additional information from the Parks Department.”
“I am thinking that the resolution that passed in ‘09 was probably passed in haste and in error,” said Board 8 parks committee member Michele Birnbam.
Birnbam also expressed qualms about the wording of the 2009 resolution, which stated: “Any final CB8 approval will be contingent upon the bubbles using opaque materials that would prevent the courts’ lighting from spilling into Central Park.” That made it sound as if the board’s only concern was the prevention of light pollution, ignoring the other effects the bubbles would have on the community.
According to the proposal, the two uncovered courts would be used to store equipment, including two generators for light, heat and compressed air to keep the bubbles inflated, as well as four 2,300-gallon diesel fuel tanks to power the generators. Currently, the Parks Department allows free play on the courts during the off-season.
Bubble construction would not affect the summer tennis season: The project would begin mid-November 2010 and end late March 2011. Once the basic bubble structure has been added, it could be converted quickly for indoor or outdoor play.
The most common concerns about the plan have been the increased fees, which would range from $30 to $100 per hour (by comparison, the hourly rates at Alley Pond Tennis Center in Queens range from $25 to $58 per hour, and indoor rates at Prospect Park in Brooklyn only go as high as $70 per hour); unsightly 35 foot-high bubbles; and adverse environmental effects from the diesel generators.
Board 8, citing the lack of open space on the East Side, recently voted against a similar Parks Department proposal for a year-round tennis bubble at the Queensboro Oval, under the 59th Street Bridge. The courts there are currently only covered in the winter, with softball teams using the space during warmer months.

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