Parks Department Now Open to Returning Queensboro Oval to Public Control

The Sutton East Tennis club at the Queensboro Oval. | JACKSON CHEN
The Sutton East Tennis club at the Queensboro Oval. | MICHAEL SHIREY

BY JACKSON CHEN | The Department of Parks and Recreation paused its plans to issue a request for proposals for a private vendor to manage the city’s Queensboro Oval Park on York Avenue, between East 59th and 60th Streets.

At a Community Board 8 Parks Committee meeting on September 8, the parks department informed the community that it was preparing a draft RFP that could be ready by mid-October. The park space is currently operated by Sutton East Tennis and its owner, Tony Scolnick – who runs a private tennis franchise for between eight and 10 months out of the year, turning the space over to the public for the summer months – but the license is due to expire in August 2017. With nearly a year’s time left, the parks department was looking to make a seamless transition between the tennis club and its next operator.

However, during CB8’s Parks Committee meeting on October 6, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said the RFP process has been put on hold following outspoken opposition from both the community and elected officials.

Park’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro reiterated Silver’s stance in a written statement.

“NYC Parks is continuing our open dialogue with community stakeholders, including local elected officials and the Community Board, to determine the best way to activate Queensboro Oval for sports and recreational purposes,” he said.

The parks department also agreed to meet with CB8’s chair, Jim Clynes, and the Parks Committee co-chairs, Peggy Price and Susan Evans, in December. Clynes said he is hopeful the board would get more definitive answers at that meeting regarding the possibility that the Queensboro Oval will be managed full time by the city rather than privately.

Silver acknowledged that his department will explore that possibility. He noted, however, that Parks would have to discuss the question with the city’s Department of Transportation because the park is underneath the Queensboro Bridge. While the DOT has jurisdiction over the bridge, its concerns regarding changes in the park may involve its ability to access the structure through the oval for repairs or repainting.

The DOT had not responded to a request for comment as this story was posted.

Once the parks department completes this new review of its options, should it determine that public management of the park is not feasible, it would have to decide whether there was still time to issue a vendor RFP or if it must simply seek renewal of Sutton East Tennis’ license for another year one or two.

If the department decides to go with a full-time park, it would need to secure funding for maintenance and operations, an amount that has yet to be calculated. Silver emphasized to CB8, however, that funding would not be the determining factor in deciding whether to open up the park to the public year-round.

Community residents and CB8 members just outside the entrance to Queensboro Oval at a June 25 rally demanding that the park be opened up to the public. | JACKSON CHEN
Community residents and CB8 members just outside the entrance to Queensboro Oval at a June 25 rally demanding that the park be opened up to the public. | JACKSON CHEN

City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who has been a fierce proponent of CB8’s mission to end private management of the park, said he is ready to allocate funds for this cause.

“I have already represented to the parks department that I would be interested in investing capital funding from my office,” Kallos said, adding there was additional money available from Borough President Gale Brewer and the state.

“I am willing to put my money where my mouth is in investing in this park,” Kallos said.

CB8 has brought up the idea of establishing a conservancy for the park that would raise money for maintenance and other expenses.

The parks department has indicated that if it decides to revert the Queensboro Oval to public management, it would take more than three years to create a fully accessible park.

Kallos insisted that in that scenario, the park should not go unused. Sutton East, he said, could remain in the space during the months it has a license to run its tennis facility provided that it return the park to its original condition during the summer months –– as its license currently requires.

Clynes, the CB8 chair, is encouraging the community board’s Parks Committee to formalize a report about successful public parks around the city that are underneath bridges –– including Field 75 at Randalls Island and the Coleman Square Playground in Lower Manhattan – to submit to the parks department as it studies the issue.

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