Queensboro Oval’s Fate Still Uncertain, Sutton East Tennis Given Another Year
BY JACKSON CHEN | As the debate over the permanent status of the Queensboro Oval continues, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation has announced it will renew the Sutton East Tennis Club’s license to operate at the park for another year.
Sutton East Tennis Club has run a seasonal paid facility, housed in an inflatable bubble structure, for up to eight months a year at the Queensboro Oval, on York Avenue between East 59th and 60th Streets, since 1979.
But that arrangement has recently been embroiled in controversy, with Community Board 8 attempting to return the space to the public as a full-time park.
With CB8 pushing the parks department to reevaluate the best utilization of the 1.2-acre site underneath the Queensboro Bridge, the city last year put off a planned request for proposals for a private operator of the space. The current lease expires on August 31, and with no final decision on whether the park will revert to public control or continue to mix public and private uses, Parks opted to renew the Sutton East Tennis Club’s lease on a one-year basis to avoid having the land sit empty with no recreational facilities.
“NYC Parks is pursuing a one-year extension to their license, with potential one-year renewals at Parks’ discretion, while we fully consider the site’s long-term best use,” according to parks department spokesperson Crystal Howard.
Emphasizing the goal of keeping the park land in use while any new configuration of the space is designed and built, the department said the tennis club would continue operating until plans are finalized and funds are secured.
The parks department presented several designs for a full-time public park in January, and CB8 members voiced greatest support for a plan to have a multi-use field fill the entire space. Though CB8’s Parks Committee previously indicated it wanted to open the park up to the public permanently as soon as the current Sutton East lease expires, CB8 chair Jim Clynes said the board is “disappointed, but we understand” the parks department’s decision to extend Sutton East’s license.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel since the renewal is just for one year,” he told Manhattan Express. “We will continue to work closely with our elected officials and Commissioner [Mitchell] Silver so that one day the Queensboro Oval is returned to the public full-time year round.”
Tony Scolnick, Sutton East’s owner, said he is thrilled he will be able to continue operating for the time being. He noted that several tennis club players showed up at a CB8 meeting on February 15 to voice their support for his facility and 3,500 people signed an online petition calling for the club’s preservation.
“The real question for the parks department… [is] what is the best use for this particular facility,” Scolnick said. “That’s what they are trying to figure out, that’s why they gave us this year extension. They haven’t figured it out yet.”
The Sutton East owner argued that an indoor tennis club promotes the greatest use of the Queensboro Oval since it protects players from the harsh winter weather as well as the noise and fumes emanating from the bridge. Scolnick said he did informal tallies using surveillance photos and found that last year on many summer days less than five people were using the park.
“We feel the best use is to have it covered because of the elements outside and the amount of people who use it,” Scolnick said. “Having an outdoor turf field, you’re not going to get the same use during the winter where there’s three or four months that no one is really going to be using it.”
CB8 members and residents have told parks department officials that low use when the tennis bubble isn’t around could be the result of residents being unfamiliar with the park’s availability since Sutton East operates there for most of the year. If the parks department redesigns the Queensboro Oval as a fulltime park, proponents argue, residents will become more aware of the recreational opportunities available there.
Scolnick said that if the parks department eventually decides to end Sutton East’s license for the space, there aren’t many alternative spots in the city to accommodate clay tennis courts, leaving many of his customers — as well as his employees — out of luck.
“We have people as young as three, as old as mid-80s playing tennis,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we feel that this is the best use of the facility for this community.”