Tennis Bubble Details

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More details emerged about a plan to construct bubbles over 24 of Central Park’s 26 clay tennis courts to make them suitable for winter play.

The Parks Department’s proposal calls for a 15-year concession to construct four, 35-foot opaque bubbles over all but two of the courts, which would be used to store equipment. That equipment includes two generators that would provide light, heat and compressed air to keep the bubbles inflated, as well as four 2,300-gallon diesel fuel tanks that would 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 Parks Department is considering charging up to $100 per hour to play in the Central Park tennis courts when a bubble covers them in winter months.

The proposal was the subject of a contentious discussion at Community Board 7’s March 11 Parks and Preservation Committee. Charles Kloth, the Parks Department’s director of concessions, attended the meeting to answer questions about the proposal. When asked how often the diesel fuel would need to be replaced, Kloth said he could not give an answer, citing the yet-to-be-signed contract.

“Already, I’m concerned by the number of, ‘I don’t knows,’” said Bobbie Katzander, a committee member.

“You’re asking us to accept diesel pollution, noise pollution, loss of peace and quiet. And for what? What’s the benefit here?” said another committee member, Miki Fiegel.

Betsy Smith, the Parks Department’s director of development, responded.

“What we’re trying to do is expand access to the courts to as many people as possible,” Smith said. “It would be good for school groups, other youth groups, seniors, people who don’t have that access to the courts.”

The question of access also arose when Kloth said that rates to play on the covered courts 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. Indoor rates at Prospect Park in Brooklyn only go as high as $70 per hour.

The bubble would not affect the cost of using the courts in the summer, which is $100 per year for adults or $7 for a day pass.

“I’m pro-bubble at low-cost,” said Al Lewis, an Upper West Side resident who said he’d been playing tennis four times a week for the past 15 years. “They’re proposing to make the rates $40 to $50 higher than at other courts, and there’s no reason for that to be.”

Lewis, an environmental remedial contractor, also questioned the department’s choice of diesel fuel to power the generators.

“It’s not something I want done in Central Park,” he said. “You’d have trucks going in and out of there, you’d have issues with tank tightness. What a tragedy it would be if there were any kind of spill there. Electricity’s a nice, clean way to power a bubble.”

After a lengthy discussion, the
committee agreed to take up the matter again at a meeting scheduled for May 13. Board 7 is the second community board bordering Central Park to hear about the project. Community Board 8, on the East Side, has already written a letter supporting the proposal. n

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