Thursday, July 29, 2010

Iconic Stadium Faces Potential Sale

By Tamara Best

During its storied history, Forest Hills Tennis Stadium has played host to many historic events, including the inaugural U.S Open in 1968, when Arthur Ashe became the first African-American man to win a grand slam title.

The iconic stadium, which is part of the West Side Tennis Club, has been seldom used since the U. S. Open was moved to Flushing Meadows in the late 1970s and has deteriorated over the years. And now, it may disappear forever as the club weighs whether or not to sell it.

The club dates back to 1892 and includes 38 courts. The main stadium, which seats 15,000, opened in 1923. In addition to tennis, the stadium has hosted notable musicians including Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Diana Ross and The Who.

An informational meeting on the proposal to sell the club’s main stadium will be held on August 10, with members set to vote on August 19th. The club would retain ownership over the other facilities and courts on the 14- acre property, which is located near Austin Street.

Attempts to reach the clubs officers were unsuccessful, but members weighed in on the possibility of the stadium being sold.

Susanna Hof, a longtime member and co-founder of Terrace Sotheby's International Realty in Forest Hills, said she has concerns over the timing of the meeting and vote.

“The time of planning is short and in the summer, which means some of the members won’t be there,” she said. “This announcement was brought to the membership with two weeks notice. Long-term members feel like it’s a travesty.”

Hof said there has been discussion over the last decade about selling the stadium with proposals for a hotel, townhouses and a tennis hall of fame among other considerations. Building more residential developments would create added congestion to the area, which is already heavily populated, she said.

A longtime member of the club, who asked not be named, said that discussion and voting centers on one offer— but members won’t know who is making the offer until the informational meeting. Two-thirds of members must vote to approve any sale of the stadium. In an e-mail sent to members this week, leadership clarified rules in the bylaws that decides who can vote, based on their level of membership, according to a longtime member who asked not to be named. Under the rules, some members of the club would not be eligible to vote.

Christine Schott, who has been a club member for years, said she hopes that voting on a potential sale will be placed on hold until the fall.

“I think the membership feels that one week’s time is not enough to make an important decision,” she said. “To just tear it down would make the West Side Tennis Club into just a tennis club, instead of a world renowned tennis club.”

Hof said that before any discussion of selling the stadium takes place, an independent structural report to be completed.
According to Joseph Gulino of Structural Engineering Systems PLLC in Bayside, which isn’t involved in this project, engineers examine deficiencies such as cracks, settlement problems, corrosion, rust and other issues when assessing a stadium.

“We do a visual and look for characteristics of structural deficiency,” he said. “From there, depending on what you see, you may do a detailed model in 3D to analyze the structure. Sometimes renovating a structure that size could prove not to be worth the investment,” he said, adding that correcting structural problems could costs millions for a structure the size of the stadium.

Despite the potential cost, Hof said these issues need to be explored.“ The structural integrity of the stadium is important,” she said. “From a place in American history, it is an important place. If you could find a use to the stadium that would still bring in money and preserve it that should be an option.”

Michael Perlman, of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, is calling for the stadium to be designated as a landmark.

“There isn’t anything else quite like it in the country,” he said. “It helped tennis to become the national sport that it is.”

Perlman added that the general public should not be “shut out” of the discussion because the stadium is part of the community, not just the club.

“People should write to the Landmark Preservation Committee so that future generations can cherish something that is truly remarkable. Queens is fortunate to have it— it’s an icon.”

In a feature piece this week, Ed McGrogan, assistant editor for, suggested that the stadium be renovated if possible and re-used.

“Many fans have clamored for more tennis on turf, as the current grass-court “season” is just five weeks long for the men and four weeks for the women,” he said. “But there’s no reason it has to end after Wimbledon. Another grass showcase in the U.S. in mid-July, right after fans have gotten into grass during Wimbledon, would attract viewers both at the club and on television.”

Despite not wanting to see the stadium disappear, Hof said the club must ultimately ex- plore its options to help generate revenue. “From a business perspective you have to look at all the options. You can’t have your head in the cloud.”

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