UES tennis bubble deal set

City awards a new 10-year concession contract to current operator. Public access and costs to play still up in the air

  • The Sutton East Tennis Club’s facility at the Queensboro Oval at York Avenue and 59th Street. Photo: New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

The city’s Parks Department ended years of a back-and-forth rally between the agency and local politicians Friday by announcing that the tennis bubble under the Queensboro Bridge will continue to be privately operated by its current concessionaire, with the expectation of expanded public access at a lower cost.

The decision comes a year after the department filed a request for proposals to operate the sports facility as the agency’s license agreement with Sutton East Tennis was expiring. The department received seven bids total, according to spokesperson Crystal Howard.

Sutton East, which has been the concessionaire at the site since 1979, will be running the courts for at least ten more years. The club will continue to operate and maintain the facility, paying the city either a minimum fee (starting at $1.7 million in its first year and reaching $2 million by year 10) or 35 percent of its annual gross receipts. In 2016, the club paid $2.6 million for use of the facility.

Who Gets to Play?

The decision put a pin in the debate among local politicians, residents and the agency on whether the 1.25-acre Queensboro Oval should be returned to the public as a full-time park.

“While I am disappointed not to be able to open the Queensboro Oval to the public, I am glad that the award reflects concerns I raised with the Parks Department,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the district encompassing the courts.

Kallos and others argued that the tennis bubble was not accessible to most residents, noting that the property was blocked to the public nine months out of the year, and the hourly rates ranged between $80 and $225 to play. (Though rates could be as low as $15 an hour during the summer session.)

“As a kid walking by and seeing this bubble, I felt like I couldn’t afford to go in,” said Kallos, who grew up on the Upper East Side.

Up until March 2018, there was some discussion about returning the land to the public and turning it into a park with a multi-use turf field and amenities, a project likely costing $6.1 million.

Kallos said despite allocating $1 million in discretionary funding from his office, the department decided to continue to lease the land to a private operator.

Public Hearing Scheduled

At this point, Kallos is optimistic that the new agreement will be better than the status quo, but thinks more can be done by the Parks Department to provide the public with access to local parks.

“The Upper East Side has some of the least park space per capita in the city, and at least some if not all of the $2 million being paid for this park should be invested in our local parks,” Kallos said.

The length of the public session, cost of court time and the number of public drop-in hours are terms that are still being negotiated, according to Howard. If residents purchase a season pass from the Parks Department for $100, they can play at Sutton East without additional fees.

A joint public hearing between the Parks Department and the Franchise and Concession Review Board will be held 2:30 p.m. Monday, May 6th, in the 14th floor auditorium at 2 Lafayette Street.

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