The USTA’s expansion proposal would increase the footprint of the already existing tennis center in the park, adding .68 acres of land. It proposes the elimination of roughly 400 trees and would remove a paved roadway.
“Parkland is sacred,” said Avella at a protest rally outside the USTA on Sunday afternoon.
Avella and other protestors said that denying USTA to expand would send a message to other developers who have their eyes on using parkland for development, most notably a proposal to build a Major League Soccer stadium in the park.
There is also a proposal to build a hotel and retail complex on top of a portion of the Citi Field parking lot, which is also technically parkland.
“This is the first of these three applications,” he said. “We’re here to say that even if this is the smallest proposal of the three, you’re still taking away parkland without replacing it.”
Avella blamed local elected officials for the USTA even thinking it could propose a “parkland land grab.”
“Could you imagine if they did this in Prospect Park?” the state senator asked. “Why Flushing Meadows-Corona Park has been treated like a stepchild is a question we have to ask our elected officials. I don’t get it.”
When city parkland is developed or sold, an act of the legislature must approve the proposal. Avella said there are already talks in the works to introduce that bill.
“If that bill does get introduced in the senate I am going to get up on the senate floor and just go wild on not only that senator but on the entire process,” Avella vowed.
Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Parks Advocates, said on Sunday that any changes USTA wants to make should be made within its existing complex. “This is particularly egregious because they can build on their existing footprint,” he said. “There is absolutely no reason to take more parkland.”
Paul Graziano, a local civic advocate and candidate for City Council, spoke about similar projects being blocked in Brooklyn because of “borough-wide protest,” something that he would like to see in Queens.
He scoffed at those in favor of the expansion who argue it’s only a strip of parkland about 30 feet wide.
“Well if it’s only 30 feet, then why do you need it?” Graziano asked.
"Our goal is to continue to be a good steward of the Park and a good neighbor and community partner," said Daniel Zausner, COO of the National Tennis Center. "The silver of land in question is mostly an existing asphalt road. We have no plans for any additional expansion."