You are on page 1of 3

Tel.

: 347-722-1872 Cell: 646-732-5784

June 17, 2013

MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION TO AN ACT TO Alienate 0.68 acres of public parkland In Flushing Meadows - Corona Park for the United States Tennis Association S5663/A7826 - by Senator "Rules" and Assembly Member Aubry.

Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a coalition of community-based civic and environmental groups opposed to the commercial encroachment of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and Queens Civic Congress, an organization devoted to the betterment of Queens that represents more than 100 civic and other community organizations throughout the borough of Queens, opposes this bill. We are strongly committed to preserving and enhancing the flagship park of Queens and preventing it from further commercial development. Adoption of this bill will reaffirm that our parks are for sale. The proposed expansion of the US Tennis Center would permanently remove additional space that should serve as open space for us all and, most importantly, as a "backyard" space for hundreds of thousands of working class residents of Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Flushing and many communities surrounding the park. The proposed expansion and reconfiguration will impact park space and roadways and right-of-way to access to the tennis center and local park features. There is absolutely no reason to approve the expansion other than to further enrich the USTA. They are not moving out and they can build on their existing foot print as they have repeatedly stated. They simply want a more "luxurious experience" for their fans. They made $ 275 million last year and yet gave the city only $ 2.5 million back while spreading millions of dollars in "profits" across the nation. They stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars more from the expansion. This is about greed pure and simple. They are using our public lands as a cash cow. The USTA doubled its public parkland holdings in the 90's - going from 22 to 42 acres - but evidently even that was not enough. The proposed expansion would incorporate the 0.68 acre parcel with land alienated in the 90's for a total of nearly 1 acre. No one denies that the USTA is an important economic event for the city however our public park land must not be sacrificed every time they or any other private business comes up with a plan to generate more revenue. The USTA expansion in the 90's was supposed to be the final encroachment once and for all. Furthermore the USTA has refused to commit itself to not requesting more public parkland in the future. Will even more precious parkland go to private use?

It is the state's legal responsibility to protect our public parks, not give them away every time a private business comes up with a plan to generate more revenue. The approval of this bill would set a dangerous precedent. Under the New York State Common law Public Trust Doctrine public parkland is required to be protected yet our parks are increasingly being used for private businesses. The USTA expansion is the first of three irresponsible commercial projects being proposed for the borough of Queens's flagship park. The irresponsible alienation of 25.3 acres of historic public park in the South Bronx and the permanent loss of parkland to build Yankee stadium is a recent example. These are not public works projects but instead private businesses using their power to privatize public parks for their own financial gain. This is terrible and irresponsible public policy. The USTA's rational for the expansion is to prevent top players from defecting to other venues like Dubai. That is NOT the role of public parklands. Tennis is wonderful, jobs are important but none of these are in jeopardy if you vote no. Phony Replacement Scheme Deal – The applicants have misleadingly represented that in exchange for the 0.68-acre parcel, more than double this amount of land will be returned to the City without stating that the public already has access to this parkland. In fact under the terms of the proposed new deal the USTA is allowed to have exclusive use of the public tennis courts for a maximum of 30 days as they have under the current arraignment. And when the USTA's National Tennis Center's COO Daniel Zausner was asked by a Community Board 7 member if they were going to expand their public programs if they got the expansion, he said no. He said, "you mean in addition to what we already provide, no." Transparency - The USTA wants city park land to expand but they refuse to put the proposal on line despite repeated requests. Are they ashamed of their expansion plans? Destruction of Trees - The expansion of the USTC will also have a devastating effect on the environment of the park. The construction in and around the tennis center will require the removal or destruction of some four hundred trees. While USTC promises to relocate or replace as many trees as possible it is irresponsible to destroy perfectly good trees in the middle of their life cycle. Not Good Neighbors - Besides using the park as a parking lot during the US Open local immigrant soccer groups were denied permits last year in order to accommodate the USTA. Congestion and Damage - The community is also concerned about traffic congestion, vehicle parking and further damage to parkland, grass, trees and park paths. Already, hundreds of cars are permitted to park on the grass during the U.S. Open. But the proposed parking garage will accommodate only a fraction of number of new vehicles generated by the expansion. Even more cars will park on the grass and displace even more space for picnicking and soccer games. The Ultimate Insult - The USTC has chosen Westchester as it headquarters, depriving Queens of the best, highest paying and year-round jobs. Why would the center headquarters not want to be very close to its iconic center?

Destroying Public Parks In order to "Save Them" It is the state's legal responsibility to properly fund our public parks not private businesses. To add insult to injury to date not a single word has been uttered regarding any amount the USTA is giving the city in exchange for being allowed to expand. The Dept. of City Planning even voted yes on it without receiving this information despite being assured this would be worked out before the vote. But they never publicly followed up. The city continues to try and abdicate its responsibilities by entering in these agreements which the elected officials are not only allowing but actively encouraging. Each year our elected officials allocate a fraction of the necessary funds needed to properly maintain, program and secure our parks. And instead many officials have attempted to pass the responsibility off on private groups or concessions. One City Council member is trying to create an Alliance - a non-profit that would divert concession revenue – which by law is supposed to go to the City's general fund – into the park. The plan would rely in large part on the private businesses that are exploiting the park. Negotiations are currently underway with the Parks Department - agreeing to a deal that puts money into a park fund in exchange for a yes vote which would allow the USTA to expand will only encourage more businesses try and take our public parkland. It would also allow the very people whose job it is to properly fund and protect our public spaces off the hook. These deals only weaken communities and make it easer for the next encroachment. There is a huge difference between receiving philanthropic contributions from civic minded people seeking nothing in return and establishing a fund explicitly created for extracting money from businesses exploiting the park. We are dedicated to the open and free public use of parkland. Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a historic space, which has been grossly under-resourced over many many decades. Iconic structures from the two World’s Fairs, like the New York State Pavilion, have been allowed to deteriorate. Huge area open space have been given to private businesses with little benefit to Queens or the park’s neighbors who must deal with the traffic, noise and congestion in addition to the loss of valuable recreational space. We believe that the line must be drawn now on any further commercial use or development on Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Neighbors in Corona, Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, Flushing and so many other surrounding communities demand and deserve this space and we stand by them. For these reasons, Save Flushing Meadows - Corona Park and Queens Civic Congress oppose this legislation and urges its defeat.