BY JACKSON CHEN | The Department of Parks and Recreation has presented three suggestions regarding what the Upper East Side’s Queensboro Oval could become, but Community Board 8’s Parks Committee is making clear it will not negotiate over any plan to keep it privately controlled.
The Queensboro Oval on York Avenue between East 59th and 60th Streets has been operated by the Sutton East Tennis Club since 1979, but in recent months, the community has ramped up efforts to retake the space and return it to use as a full-time park for the public. In response, the parks department agreed to hold off on its plans to request proposals from private operators and has joined the community in trying to figure out a viable compromise.
On January 12, representatives from Parks presented three options to CB8’s Parks Committee. Emphasizing that the three plans did not represent an exhaustive list, the agency indicated it was seeking initial feedback from the community, according to David Cerron, the parks department’s chief of revenue, concessions, and controls oversight.
The first option included a multisport synthetic turf field accommodating softball, soccer, football, lacrosse, and more, with a projected cost of $6.11 million and a three-to-five-year completion timeframe.
The second option, coming in at $5 million and the same timeframe, would split the roughly 1.2 acre park into two parts, one side for a similar multipurpose field and the other for four outdoor tennis courts.
In both Options 1 and 2, Cerron noted, funding would still have to be identified.
Option 3 would go through a request for proposals, seeking a concessionaire that would operate a private facility for six months, open the park to the public for six months, and maintain the property year-round. This option most closely resembles the current setup, though Sutton East over time has been taking up more of the year with its tennis club.
CB8 members wholly rejected the third option and reiterated they were not willing to agree to any sort of configuration where residents must pay to play.
“Any auction where this space is used for a fee is not acceptable,” CB8’s Parks Committee member Tricia Shimamura said to the parks department officials. “At the end of the day, if you’re here to take back feedback, any option where community members are charged to use that space is not going to be acceptable.”
The only option that CB8 seemed open to working with and improving on was the first option of a multipurpose field that spans the entire park. CB8 didn’t fully commit its support to that proposal, however, instead offering feedback including the addition of a running track, as proposed by Fred Bondy, a 49-year neighbor of the Oval, or seating and greenery.
The parks department, in forgoing its original RFP schedule, has put itself in a difficult position. Even if it were to opt for a private operator of the space, it could not get one lined up and ready for August, when Sutton East’s license expires. It also does not want Queensboro Oval left empty at that point, but no renovation plan has yet been determined.
Parks could renew the current operator’s license for a year or two, Cerron explained, while it works with the community to finalize a new plan for the space.
According to the parks department’s Manhattan borough commissioner, William Castro, construction of either the first or second option would take roughly a year. But other steps required prior to any ribbon-cutting – like scoping sessions, design approval, and sending the project out to bid – can each take months to settle, creating an overall timeframe running as long as three to five years.
Since the Oval is located under the Queensboro Bridge, it falls within the Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction, according to Castro. Working with the DOT, Cerron explained, there would be some restrictions about any changes made regarding park elements such as trees, underground infrastructure, and lighting.
CB8 member Matt Bondy, one of the earliest voices rallying support for opening up the Oval, said he is pleased to see some movement but dissatisfied with the slow pace.
“When we’re talking about this five years later, you’re talking about a capital plan that takes three to five years to implement,” Bondy said. “Had this planning started when we first began talking about this, when the license expires in August, you could’ve been ready to go. I think that’s very unfortunate.”
Other CB8 members agreed and were adamant that as soon as the current lease expires, the agency should simply return the land to the community, even if it would just be the bare clay surface.
Parks Committee co-chair Susan Evans said committee members attended a meeting with Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, Castro, and other agency employees where Silver asked if they wanted the Oval to be returned as just dirt.
“I said yes, the community wants it back as dirt and we will take care of it from there,” Evans said. “It is a public space, [Sutton East] have no right to be there, they have been there too long, end of story. We want it back and if it’s dirt we get, dirt we will work with.”
Ultimately, CB8 Parks crafted a resolution that rejected Option 3, supported the concept of a multi-use field, but stressed that the park should be returned to the public as soon as the lease ends in August.
“This lands belongs to the citizens of New York City, it is public land, it belongs to us, whether it’s being overseen by this group or that group, it doesn’t so much matter, this is our property,” CB8’s Park Committee co-chair Peggy Price said. “We have said up ‘til now that we want it back, and there’s no good reason to not get it back.”