Testimony Re: License Agreement Between York Avenue Tennis, LLC and City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation for the Development, Operation, and Maintenance of a Sports & Recreational Facility, Queensboro Oval, Manhattan, New York, M70-O-2017 May 6, 2019
Introduction Thank you to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation for taking seriously concerns raised by community members and elected officials about the use of the Queensboro Oval playground and for proposing a new contract that addresses many of those concerns. As you are likely aware, Council District 5, which together we represent, has among the least acreage of park land per person in the city. According to the latest edition of New Yorkers for Parks’ report Manhattan’s East Side Open Space Index, 170,000 residents in Council District 5 share just 36 acres of open space, far fewer acres than can adequately accommodate residents’ needs. As such, East Siders cherish and fight for their parks. Our hope is that at minimum, the expected $1.7 million dollars of revenue from this proposed contract should be used to benefit our local parks for the next 10 years.
History of the Queensboro Oval Site
When the Queensboro Bridge was completed in 1909, the land underneath it on the Manhattan side, now called the Queensboro Oval, was designated as a playground. In the early 1970s, the City began renting the site to a private company for an indoor tennis club, which the Parks Department’s RFP describes as having been “hugely successful.” The concession has raised revenue but its high fees have made it too expensive for the vast majority of New Yorkers. When the concession began, the tennis bubble was put in place six months out of the year, returning the park to the public for the summer season. The Parks department reduced that summer season to less than three months out of the year without any public review, and the space was not left in a usable condition to the public, essentially precluding public use for the full year.
Dating back to January 7, 2010, Community Board 8 has held numerous public meetings with members of the community to discuss the future of the Queensboro Oval, with more than ten meetings from December 4, 2014 through January 12, 2017. We have worked with community leaders, Community Board 8, and our fellow elected officials to advocate for the return of this land to the public, as a year-round public park. Community Board 8 has objected to the privatization of public land at the Queensboro Oval, passing several resolutions calling for the City to make the Queensboro Oval a year-round public park, which could include tennis courts accessible to more New Yorkers. On June 25, 2016, when we joined Community Board 8 Manhattan Parks Committee Chairs Margaret Price and Susan Evans in organizing a rally to “Open the Oval” with dozens of members of the community, drawing attention to the high fees at the Oval and the unusable condition in which it was left during the summer season, and calling for the park to be returned to public use. The rally was covered by The Daily News, Manhattan Express, and DNAinfo. In response, the Parks Department presented to the Community Board multiple options for the site, from a turf field, to splitting the space between a turf field and tennis courts, or keeping the tennis bubble. Council Member Kallos allocated $1 million in the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 capital budget to go towards one of these options. Ultimately, the Parks Department issued a temporary extension with modifications of the current license and to issue a new RFP for the concession.
Request for Proposals and Improvements
Won On February 16, 2018, the Parks Department issued this RFP. Council Member Kallos then sent a letter to the Parks Department asking that it reconsider a proposal to convert the playground to a multipurpose field or in the alternative revise the RFP to weigh more heavily applications that increased affordability and accessibility to the park, as opposed to revenue for the City. This could include expanding the summer public session, lowering fees, and running communitybased programming. In April of this year, the Parks Department presented to Community Board 8 to announce the draft of the proposal that is now in front of the FCRC. That proposal includes many significant improvements to previous contracts which reflect the serious concerns we raised and which will go far toward making this park a true public benefit. The changes include:
Doubled the public season from 10 weeks out of the year to 22 weeks—nearly half the year.
Free tennis during 22-week public summer season for NYC Parks tennis permit holders at $100 for 22 weeks, plus $15 to reserve a court with the option to drop in for free. During the private play Winter Season there will be free and low-cost access for the public:
$10 per person drop-ins for 6 hours every day, one-third of the time it is open, Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. – 8 a.m., 1 p.m. – 3 p.m., and 10 p.m. – 12 a.m., as well as Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m. – 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. – 12 p.m.
Senior Citizens Tennis Clinics for $10 a person during weekday morning and afternoon drop-in hours and Cardio Tennis on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.
Youth Instruction through the City Parks Foundation for 16 court hours per week with $5 per-person rate for Play Today Program participants as well as free instruction for the Yorkville Youth Athletic Association.
Full Scholarships for thirty children and youth in Pee Wee and Junior Development.
Hunter College Men’s and Women’s Tennis will get 75 hours of free team practice.
In order to ensure the delivery of these programs, we ask that the following clause in Exhibit C under “OTHER PROGRAMMING” that reads “Free and/or low-cost public programming may be subjected to change upon written request from Licensee to Parks, and upon Parks written approval” be amended to state that if a program is canceled, it must be replaced by a new program of equal or greater value.
The winning bid on this request for proposal has addressed many of the concerns raised by our offices, Community Board 8 Manhattan, fellow elected officials and our residents to improve public access to the Queensboro Oval playground. However, the facility has for many years been used to generate revenue and will continue to do so for the next decade, at minimum of $1.7 million a year. Meanwhile East Siders have lacked park space, and neighboring parks remain in need of funding to activate them with programming and to make necessary repairs. There is precedence for the Parks Department to use funds from an entity occupying a playground to enhance other nearby local parks. During the Second Avenue Subway construction, Marx Brothers Playground was used as a staging location, and Playground Associates were funded to enhance nearby parks. While the Queensboro Oval playground is licensed under this franchise earning $1.7 million in revenue, some if not all funds should similarly go to benefit the nearby parks in the local community.
The Parks Department offers several year-round programs to activate parks including Kids in Motion Playground Associates, Shape Up NYC, and Imagination Playground.
Any or all of these programs together could help activate nearby parks with comfort stations including Twenty-Four Sycamores Park across the street, as well as St. Catherine’s Park, John Jay Park, Carl Schurz Park Playground, Samuel Seabury Playground, and Stanley Isaacs Playground. None of these parks has programs other than a limited few currently funded with very limited discretionary funding by Council Member Kallos.
Additionally, nearby parks lacking comfort stations would still be appropriate for weekly Shape Up NYC activities such as Yoga and Cardio for adults and seniors. These parks include Sutton Place Park, Andrew Haswell Green Park, Honey Locust Park, Peter Detmold Park, Tramway Plaza, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, and Ruppert Park.
In addition to programming, East Side parks are also in need of capital repairs, maintenance, and improvements. Mayor de Blasio has allocated $95 million in response to funding requests from the East River Esplanade Taskforce that we co-chair, plus $15 million in the East Harlem Rezoning Plan, to repair the East River Esplanade from 60th Street to 125th Street. However, according to the Parks Department’s estimates additional funding is still needed to stop this park’s crumbling seawall from falling into the East River. Other parks throughout the East Side have similar capital needs.
We are pleased that the Parks Department has taken our concerns regarding the Queensboro Oval seriously, and we believe this proposed license is a major step forward in the use of this space and will provide a rare opportunity for New Yorkers to play indoor, climate controlled tennis on clay courts free for the summer and at affordable rates throughout the winter.
We urge the Parks Department to use the minimum of $1.7 million in revenue generated from this license to invest in the East Side’s neighboring parks so that all New Yorkers can play and relax in our city’s valuable open space. Sincerely, Carolyn Maloney Congress Member Ben Kallos Council Member Gale Brewer Manhattan Borough President Liz Krueger Senator Dan Quart Assembly Member Keith Powers Council Member
Manhattan Borough President