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Lack of lights at Williamsburg tennis courts sparks volley of blame

McCarren Park is a popular place for Williamsburg

McCarren Park is a popular place for Williamsburg tennis players, but a lack of lights has locals in an uproar. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Lights, please!

A group of avid tennis players at McCarren Park say they are tired of waiting for lights to be installed on the outdoor courts, complaining the work was promised years ago.

The popular courts are packed during the warm weather days but sit idle after the sun goes down, they said.

“There are rush hours on those courts, between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and then 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.,” said Jeffrey Wan, 33, a Williamsburg resident who plays tennis at McCarren Park . “We were told we would be getting lights but that was years ago. It’s kind of almost a joke now.”

Installing lights was part of a license agreement between the city Parks Department and McCarren Tennis Center Partners, which won the right to operate a concession on the public city courts back in 2013.

During the winter months, the company covers the courts with a bubble and charges anywhere from $45 to $55 an hour. It also runs instructional clinics.

The rest of the year, people with an NYC Parks Tennis Permit can use six of the seven courts. Permits cost $100 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for people under the age of 18. McCarren Tennis has use of the 7th court.

When the concession was first announced, reactions were mixed. Some players welcomed the chance to use the courts year round while others grumbled it was another example of public tennis courts being privatized.

“The reason the community was initially supportive of the bubble is because the courts would be maintained and there would be lights during the summer season,” said Sean Hoess, co-founder of the McCarren Tennis Association, a volunteer group that has raised money to keep the courts in shape. “The long delay in seeing the lights happen is frustrating many players.”

Both McCarren Tennis and the Parks Department said they are moving ahead with plans to install the lights but it was not clear why the process has taken so long.

“Having the lights would make a big difference,” said Glen Gannon, 33, a Williamsburg resident who has seen the number of players increase in recent years. “Right now you have to get there like a half hour in advance before the time you want and you may might still not get a court.”  

A copy of the license agreement signed in 2013 outlines capital improvements that must be made within one year of the start of the 15-year term.  Under that language, it lists installing light poles to three middle courts and conducting a review in 2015 to help determine if the others courts should be illuminated.

But the Parks Department said the agreement with McCarren Tennis was not finalized until 2016 and there was no deadline for the concessionaire to install the lights.

“We regret that the process has taken longer than initially expected,” the agency said in a statement. “We look forward to the concessionaire completing the Public Design Commission review process and installing lights for future outdoor tennis seasons soon.”

Officials said the lights could not be installed until they found a spot that would not break vital underground infrastructure or conflict with tree roots. Some, including Zack Morrison, 34, who uses the courts, pointed out that nearby track and field facilities have lights so they can be used later in the day.

“We have been working diligently on this and it is a priority for us to finish the installation of the lights,” Michael DiRaimondo, a partner in the McCarren Tennis Center. “Now that we have the approval of the pole location, we can finalize the plans and submit them to the city to obtain the final approval.”

Parks officials said the concessionaire has spent more than $795,000 on capital improvements, but some players said most of those dollars benefit winter programs inside the bubble.

“Without lights, everyone is stuck competing for the 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. time-slot, for which there is always a line — and often a war of words —  to get on the court,” said Ronen Segev, 40, who has played on the courts for the last eight years. “If there were lights, you’d easily see people playing until 11 p.m.”


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