Thursday, October 14, 2010

West Side Tennis Club Rejects Condo Proposal

Photo courtesy Michael Perlman and the Rego-Forest Preservation Council
By Eric Yun

Forest Hills’ historic West Side Tennis Stadium is safe for now. Club members voted down an offer to sell the historic stadium to neighborhood real estate company Cord Meyer Friday night.

The stadium is owned and operated by the West Side Tennis Club, which operates 38 tennis courts adjacent to the stadium. Facing financial struggles - the Wall Street Journal reported that club membership dues covered less than 50 percent of the club’s operating expenses - the club’s board decided to listen to offers for selling the stadium.

Cord Meyer’s proposal called for renovating the exterior façade of the stadium and building condominiums inside of the walls. The sale of the property would have given the financially struggling West Side Tennis Club reportedly $9 million.

The proposal was met with resistance from the start. Michael Perlman from the Rego-Forest Preservation Council made a strong push to get the stadium landmarked. Others simply did not like Cord Meyer’s design. Club member Christine Schott described the proposed complex as more “Ft. Lauderdale than Forest Hills.”

Also, some members believed Cord Meyer was not offering proper market value for the stadium. Cushman & Wakefield independently appraised the site in September at $9.7 million. Cord Meyer’s proposal was $9 million plus an additional $750,000 for repairs to the club’s enclosure and other renovations. However, a club member and appraiser David Kra released a report questioning the methods used by Cushman & Wakefield and appraised the property at $15.5 million.

A two-thirds majority was needed to approve the project, and the final vote was deadlocked at 123-123. According to Schott’s Forest Hills Garden Blog, the official tally counts members who did not vote were counted as a no vote, which means 56 percent of members voted against the sale.

Rep. Anthony Weiner has been a strong supporter for the stadium’s preservation. Following the vote, he praised club members for voting against the sale. “My neighbors and I are gratified by the decision of the members of the West Side Tennis Club to reject the proposal to sell development rights to the historic stadium,” said Weiner (D-Forest Hills). “This will give us a chance to take a step back, take a deep breath and explore the best way forward to preserve this iconic site while respecting the rights of the club members.”

Now that the sale is off the table, club members must decide what to do with the stadium. It is still in need of major repairs—some estimates call for $12 million.

Cord Meyer Chief Operating Officer Anthony Colletti said the company is “very disappointed” about the vote. He felt there was strong support for the stadium—the board unanimously supported the sale, according to Colletti, and 123 members did vote yes. However, they were 42 votes short to attain the two-thirds super majority.

There were many issues Cord Meyer had to contend with to complete the sale. The most immediate threat was the ongoing effort to landmark the stadium. For Colletti, it seemed that “a vote against the deal was a vote for landmarking.”

Perlman wants the city to move forward and landmark the property. He believes that landmark status along with new creative uses for the stadium can help preserve the Forest Hills community and become economically viable.

A landmark designation would add prestige to the location and open the doors for grant money to help renovate the site, Perlman explained. Outside companies might also be interested in running programs in a historic site.

“Disney-esque condos would have torn the heart out of Forest Hills,” Perlman said in a release. “Mixed-use creative revitalization would yield a greater economic return in the long-run, and may feature tennis matches, concerts, weddings, exhibits, school trips, charity events, music and art festivals.”

The simplest way to inject life into the stadium is to restore its tennis tradition, argued Perlman, who would like to see a tennis academy to be built at the stadium. In August, Weiner proposed returning the US Open to the West Side Tennis Club for one match. “It is time for the United States Tennis Association to give back to Forest Hills,” Weiner wrote to USTA Chair and President Lucy Garvin.

Other proposals include reintroducing concerts at the stadium. There have been discussions with the New York Philharmonic to hold its summer concert series at the venue. No matter what the stadium is used for, Perlman wants it to become a “twenty- first century family destination.”

Whatever happens with the stadium, Cord Meyer probably will not be involved. Colletti noted that the project was not a purely profitable endeavor, but felt the company could regain losses through building good will and publicity through the project.

But never say never. “If we got a phone call we’d be interested,” Colletti said. However, he would ask the board to have club members vote first to see if they are even interested in selling the stadium. Colletti, however, doesn’t foresee members ever being interested in selling the stadium.

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