UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The Queensboro Oval will remain home to a sports facility — not a park — for at least another 10 years, according to the city Parks Department.
The Parks Department released a request for proposals in February seeking a partner to develop, operate and maintain a sports facility at the space located underneath the Queensboro Bridge on East 59th Street between First and York avenues. Community boards and elected officials representing the Upper East Side and East Midtown had advocated converting the space into a public park.
"For many months last year, NYC Parks engaged in an extensive dialogue with elected officials, community board members, local residents and those who have enjoyed tennis at the Queensboro Oval for the past 40 years, and determined that open to the public sports recreational use of this kind of space is the best, safest, and most accessible," Parks Department Spokeswoman Crystal Howard said in a statement. "We look forward to continued engagement with the public as we move forward."
The Queensboro Oval site is owned by the city Department of Transportation, which will not allow the construction of any permanent structures on the property, according to a Parks Deapartment spokesperson. The inability to create permanent structures such as tree and shrub plantings or play equipment makes the site unfit for a traditional park space, the spokesperson said.
The new sports facility will differ from the current operator — the Sutton East Tennis Club — in that it will not be a private facility, a Parks Department spokesperson said. The new facility will not require membership and will offer free and low-cost programming for a defined "summer season" of at least three months, according to a request for proposals. Proposals offering a longer "summer season" and free and low-cost programming during the rest of the year will be judged favorably by the Parks Department, according to the RFP.
The free and low-cost programs are likely to reflect a pilot launched by the Parks Department in the summer of 2017, a department spokesperson said. During the summer, Parks Department tennis permit holders were able to use six of the eight tennis courts in the Queensboro Oval for no additional fees. A Parks Department tennis permit costs $100 per year for adults.
Outside of the "summer season," the facility's future operator will be able to offer fee-based programs at the Queensboro Oval, according to the Parks Department.
Elected officials who support converting the Queensboro Oval into a public park penned a letter to the Parks Department criticizing the department's request for proposals. Officials accused the Parks Department of ignoring community stakeholders who lobbied for the park for the past two years.
The new facility could be used for any type of sports programming, but the site's clay surface makes it attractive for tennis. The Parks Department is also taking into account the site's four-decade history of hosting tennis programs
"We would like to understand the reasons behind this pivot away from working with the community to return this site to public park use. We represent some of most densely developed areas of the city, and believe that every opportunity to create additional open public space must be taken," officials said in the letter.
The letter was penned by State Senator Liz Krueger, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, City Councilmen Ben Kallos and Keith Powers, Borough President Gale Brewer and State Assembly Members Dan Quart and Rebecca Seawright.
The Parks Department recently extended its deadline for bids to March 30. The Parks Department will schedule meetings with bidders during the week of April 9, according to the request for proposals. It is unknown when the Parks Department will select a winning bid for the Queensboro Oval site.