Flushing Meadows Corona Park is the biggest park in the borough of Queens, but it's probably not the nicest one.
Surrounded by highways that render it inaccessible to the neighorboods that surround it, the park is underfunded and inconsistently maintained, replete with patches of dirt and stagnant water, bottle caps and spindly trees, and Worlds Fair relics that the city has let go to seed.
The park, as a result of the neglect, is particularly vulnerable to being nibbled away at by land-hungry tenants.
The Wilpon family and Related Companies want to build an enormous mall on its paved-over northern reaches, Major League Soccer wants to take up 13 acres for a new stadium, and the USTA wants to make its 42-acre, gated tennis complex bigger.
Whenever a city in New York State wants to take public parkland and sell or lease it to a private entity, it has to get the state legislature to pass "alienation legislation."
The state recommends, but does not require, that the entity for which the parkland is being alienated replace it with a comparable amount elsewhere.
That's a recommendation the city generally follows.
And that's why Major League Soccer is busy scouring the borough for 13 acres of parkland to make up for the plot it wants to take in the middle of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
That's also why, in 1993, when the USTA expanded its footprint in the park from 21.6 acres to 42, it had to build the 48-acre Powell's Cove Park in College Point, according the Parks Department.
This time, however, the department is not demanding replacement parkland of the USTA. Instead, it's asking for money.
Courts at the U.S.T.A.'s publicly accessible tennis courts range from $22 an hour on weekdays between 6 and 8 a.m., to $66 an hour on weekends, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It costs just $15 to play on regular Parks Department tennis courts, and just $200 for the entire season, unless you're a senior, in which case it costs only $20 per season. If you're younger than 18, it costs only $10.
"It is significantly more costly than other Parks Department tennis facilities and it is not as open and welcoming to the public as other park space is," Leicht said. "I think it’s disingenuous to say this is a truly public use.”
“It’s not public space,” agreed Michael Rikon, an attorney with experience in land-use matters. “If the public wants to get in there, they’d have to pay a lot of money. ...That’s hardly the same as free access to the community.”