For much of the year, the Queensboro Oval park under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge is rented out to a concessionaire to operate a tennis bubble. But for the past several years, every spring the giant bubble is dismantled to make way for softball and baseball leagues. This year, however, the Parks Department has decided to shave six weeks off the ball-playing season and give that time to the Sutton East Tennis Club, a move that has some Upper East Side residents seeing red.
Two years ago, the Parks Department backed off of a plan to allow the tennis bubble to remain operational all year after strong opposition from the community, allowing sports groups access to the space for four months every summer. The community didn’t find out about the recently determined extended tennis season until it was announced at a Community Board 8 committee meeting two weeks ago, and the full board strongly condemned the move, resolving to ask the Parks Department to extend the baseball permit season by six weeks into the fall to compensate for the lost time.
“I feel that it is a slap in the face to the parks committee, to CB 8, to the users of the field and to the people of the community board, not only 8 but 6, and other residents of the city who have seen this grow and grow and grow—this beast taking over a public park in your community,” said resident Bradley Cohen at the meeting.
Cohen said he couldn’t get an answer for weeks on why his request for a permit for ball playing was delayed, even though the Parks Department was in the middle of negotiating this new arrangement.
Parks Department Assistant Commissioner Betsy Smith, who has agreed to attend the upcoming CB 8 Parks Committee meeting on Thursday, April 26 to answer questions, said in a statement that the reason the Department decided to extend the tennis season was that “the Sutton East Tennis Club had already made a substantial investment to convert the bubble to a year-round operation based on the execution of the contract amendment and its registration by the comptroller.
“It was therefore prudent to address the legitimate concerns raised by the concessionaire, and we reached an agreement with them to extend the indoor season by six weeks,” she said. She also called the ball fields “vastly underused.”
A Parks Department spokesperson said that the tennis bubble will be able to stay up until June 15 every year through 2017, when their current contract expires, and that they do not plan on offering extensions of ball field permits through the fall.
“I object to the Parks Department citing the investment that the tennis club put into the bubble, because the tennis club knows full well how the community feels about the availability of the park to the neighborhood. Calling for the need to be compensated for making improvements is disingenuous,” said board member Sarah Chu at the meeting, a sentiment that many others echoed.
The Community Board also voted to ask the Parks Department to require that the tennis club restore the park to its original state when they dismantle the bubble, and many members expressed dismay over the way the Department handled the entire situation.
Geoffrey Croft, who runs the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates, said it’s particularly frustrating because many community members fought so hard against the tennis bubble being allowed to stay up year round and thought they had secured their summer space.
“We successfully fought back against that, and now we find out about another underhanded move, that the city is trying to give this guy a deal because his contract from two years ago fell apart,” Croft said.
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