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A Win for Queens

Monday, July 29, 2013

The New York City Council voted 47-1 last Wednesday to approve the proposed $500 million expansion of the United States Tennis Association’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The expansion will replace the Louis Armstrong and Grandstand stadiums and add 7,000 seats, along with expanded parking and walkways.

But more importantly for park-users, the USTA has agreed to contribute more than $10 million to Queens' most popular park, including funds for much-needed capital projects, along with annual contributions for maintenance and programming for 23 years. As part of the deal, the Parks Department committed to establishing a new nonprofit alliance that will be dedicated to the ongoing stewardship and improvement of Flushing Meadows. The local Council Member, Julissa Ferreras, played a critical role in the negotiations, and throughout the nearly six-month public review process.

"Last week's approval heralds a new era for Flushing Meadows Corona Park," said Holly Leicht, NY4P’s Executive Director. "Council Member Ferreras has fought tirelessly for her community and its precious resources, resulting in an unprecedented, long-term investment by the USTA in the park.”
 
For the past year, NY4P has worked closely with the Council Member and other community stakeholders, as well as the Bloomberg Administration, to lend our expertise and advocate on behalf of park-users. We worked closely with the Fairness Coalition of Queens, a diverse group of respected local nonprofits that came together to protect the park and surrounding neighborhoods. Through months of meetings with the coalition, Council Member Ferreras and her staff, the Administration and the USTA, we helped ensure that the 0.68 acre of alienated parkland was replaced and that the USTA would support the park's ongoing upkeep and improvement.
 
One essential contribution of NY4P was an independent study we commissioned to estimate the park's current and upgraded maintenance costs. Thanks to generous funding from the Altman Foundation, J.M. Kaplan Fund, and New York Community Trust, we were able to hire the leading national expert in this area to conduct the analysis. The resulting data proved critical in helping all parties reach agreement on the amount the USTA will commit annually to help bring the under-resourced park up to an acceptable standard of care.

Under the specific terms of Wednesday’s agreement, starting in 2014, the USTA will contribute $5 million over six years for capital improvements in the park, along with $350,000 annually for three years for maintenance and programming, and then $200,000 annually for the following 20 years. This funding will help kick-start the new alliance, which will be similar to other nonprofit organizations that have helped lift parks across the city, including the Prospect Park Alliance in Brooklyn and the Bronx River Alliance.

Why an alliance? As Council Member Ferreras recognized well before this project was even proposed, Flushing Meadows Corona Park's condition and resources fall far short of its peer flagship parks in other boroughs, all of which have nonprofit organizations that support them.

In addition to overseeing maintenance and programming in the park, the alliance will fundraise and solicit new revenue sources to augment – not supplant – the park’s public budget, work closely with the community and park-users to develop and implement a long-term plan for the park, and ultimately help operate the park. The alliance will have an independent board with financial oversight, promoting greater transparency in how park funding is used. The USTA will be one of multiple local stakeholders to sit on its board.

“We really wanted to make sure this wasn’t a one-time thing and the USTA walks away,” Leicht told The New York Times. “It’s an ongoing partnership between the USTA and the community.”
 
New Yorkers for Parks applauds Council Member Ferreras for her stalwart dedication to her constituents and to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and for her leadership in bringing the Council, Administration, and USTA to an agreement that benefits those most impacted by the Tennis Center’s expansion: the residents and park-users of Queens.



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