Thursday, August 19, 2010

Push to Landmark Tennis Stadium as Vote on Sale Nears

By Eric Yun

As West Side Tennis Club officials move forward with a proposed plan to sell the historic West Side Tennis Stadium, local politicians, residents and club members are fighting to preserve the iconic venue.

The West Side Tennis Stadium hosted the U.S. Open from 1923 to 1977. The 15,000-seat stadium was deemed too small to continue hosting the event, which was moved to Flushing Meadow. The stadium also hosted several famous concerts including The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and The Who.

The stadium is owned by the West Side Tennis Club, which also operates 38 tennis adjacent courts. In an effort to revitalize the area, club officials entered an agreement with Cord Meyer Corporation to build approximately 70 condominium units on the site. The sale of the property would reportedly give the West Side Tennis Club between $9 and $10 million. Club members are expected to vote on the proposal on September 23.

Cord Meyer’s tentative plans include renovating the exterior walls of the tennis stadium and building the apartment complex within the walls. This type of development is not unprecedented: old coliseums in Rome were used in this way, according to Anthony Colletti, Chief Operating Officer of Cord Meyer. Furthermore, the chief architect of the project stud- ied in Rome and understands how to build these types of structures.

Some club members are not thrilled with the proposed project, which was depicted in renderings issued by Cord Meyer. “It’s quite modern,” said Christine Schott. “It’s not in keeping with traditional Forest Hills Garden guidelines.” Schott added that the proposed condo development looks more like something in Fort Lauderdale than Forest Hills.

The Forest Hills Garden Association, which has jurisdiction over some of the land the stadium covers, has strict guidelines on what can be done on its property. Schott explained that even repainting a house can be cumbersome because the exact same color must be used.
Colletti contends Cord Meyer met with the Forest Hills Garden Association, and they accepted their tentative plans.

Members were also displeased with how this entire situation arose. One club member questioned the decision to enter an agreement to sell the stadium to Cord Meyer before asking members if they wanted to sell. There were also concerns over how the Tennis Club board negotiated their agreement with Cord Meyer.

Colletti understands if club members may have felt “kept in the dark” during their negotiations with the West Side Tennis Club, but he points out that everything is still in the tentative stages. “There’s nothing to even talk about without approval,” he said. “We didn’t want to waste [anyone’s] time.”

Colletti feels there has been a lot of “misinformation” about the sale of the stadium and Cord Meyer’s plans for the apartment complex. “We feel if people know all the facts, the vast majority of people will favor it.”

Still, with such a historic stadium facing extinction, there are many who are looking for ways to preserve it. One possible way to save the stadium is to have it landmarked. Last week, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- Kew Gardens), City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D- Forest Hills) and Senator Toby Ann Stravinsky (D- Flushing) urged the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to study whether the stadium should receive landmark status.

“The West Side Tennis Stadium has been a longtime fixture in the Forest Hills community,” said Koslowitz. “We need to make sure that we explore all possible avenues in relation to landmarking, as we owe it the residents of the community.”

Weiner questioned why club members are the only people who have a say in what happens to the stadium. “The future of this historic stadium should be decided by the whole community,” Weiner said. “That is why we’re making sure that all possible options are explored.”

Colletti questioned whether the Landmarks Commission would grant landmark status to an old deteriorating building. He doesn’t believe the stadium could support many other options, arguing that it is too small to hold large-scale events and too big to operate as a small-scale venue.

Cord Meyer officials say they understand the stadium is an iconic structure in Queens, and wants to preserve as much of the stadium’s history as possible. A museum within the apartment complex to celebrate the tennis and concerts that were held at the stadium was proposed.

West Side Tennis Club members would also receive many benefits from the new complex. Cord Meyer intends to build a state of the art spa, health club and indoor pool that will be available for use to members.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Colletti said.

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