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Privately Managed City Parks Tennis Courts Lunge Ahead of Phase 3 Reopening

Riverside Clay Tennis Association Associate Director Tim Heath cleans the courts near West 96th Street in preparation for its opening, June 26, 2020.
Riverside Clay Tennis Association Associate Director Tim Heath cleans the courts near West 96th Street in preparation for opening.
Ben Fractenber/THE CITY

Sidelined tennis players are calling “fault” on the city Parks Department, whose courts will remain padlocked through July 6 even as it allows privately managed courts on its property to reopen.

Seven of the 10 red clay courts inside Manhattan’s Riverside Park reopened Monday, according to Mike McIntyre, executive director of the Riverside Clay Tennis Association, which runs the courts. The courts are open to the public and do not require a membership.

The association is a subsidiary of the Riverside Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that helps with park upkeep and is headed by former City Councilmember Dan Garodnick.

Riverside’s reopening is infuriating to some tennis players whose closest courts remain closed for at least another week, until Phase 3 of New York City’s coronavirus comeback kicks in.

“It’s terrible,” said Cathy Sanacore, 57, whose home turf, Inwood Hill Park Tennis Courts farther uptown, is still shuttered. “I don’t understand why our courts are not open and theirs are.”

“If the city has determined that the reopening for tennis courts falls under Phase 3, then that should be applicable to all public courts,” said Hope, a 63-year-old tennis player from Washington Heights who asked that her last name not be used.

Awaiting Phase 3

Reached by phone on Monday, McIntyre told THE CITY two top leaders at the conservancy, Garodnick and John Herrold, asked the Parks Department if the courts could reopen. Their request was granted, McIntyre said.

“I don’t see how that’s unfair,” McIntyre said when informed of the complaints. “I’m astonished anybody would say that.”

Garodnick, president and CEO of the conservancy, served in the City Council from 2006 to 2017, representing Midtown, Central Park South and the Upper West Side. Herrold is listed on the conservancy’s website as a senior advisor and Parks Department administrator.

When THE CITY asked why Riverside Park could open while others couldn’t ahead of Phase 3, Dan Kastanis, a Parks Department spokesperson, responded: “We look forward to reopening Parks’ free, public tennis courts in Phase 3.

“Tennis has been allowed by the state for a few weeks, and some third-party operated courts, including a few on Parks property, have opened already,” he added.

‘A Little Fiefdom’

On Friday, McIntyre sent an email, obtained by THE CITY, announcing the reopening of the courts in Riverside Park at 96th Street, also known as the Oscar Hijuelos Clay Courts.

“At this time, to my knowledge, the other public courts around the city, other than those operated by a concession, will remain closed until further notice and there is no date set for their reopening,” McIntyre wrote to members of the association on the afternoon of June 25 — even though De Blasio had announced the July 6 opening date that morning.

Clay tennis courts in Riverside Park near West 96th Street were set to open after being shuttered during the coronavirus outbreak, June 26, 2020.
The clay tennis courts in Riverside Park near West 96th Street
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

McIntyre expressed gratitude to Garodnick, Herrold and others “for successfully making the case that we are capable of opening up and operating the clay courts safely right away.”

McIntyre said he believed that Riverside Park’s courts weren’t the only ones open.

Hope called the email “outrageous” because the nonprofit sounded like it was bragging. “It’s as if the Riverside Park courts are run like a little fiefdom, but they are public courts,” she said.

“There’s a political connection there,” she continued, referring to Garodnick.

“I mean, just because he left office doesn’t mean, you know, he doesn’t have friends at City Hall.”

THE CITY could not reach Garodnick, Herrold or the conservancy for comment.

Free Tennis for All

Going forward in city parks, players won’t need a permit to play as in past seasons, the Parks department spokesperson said. The same will hold for the Riverside courts.

Adult annual season permits sold for $100 each — already reduced by de Blasio from $200 three years ago.

“As the 2020 tennis season was paused, we are happy to share that permits for the remainder of the season will not be required,” Kastanis said.

He added that 2020 permits already issued will be valid for the 2021 season.

Sanacore, the tennis player, said she and her friends — including one who is 93 — are eager to return to Inwood Hill Park’s courts. Aside from helping them remain active, she said, the camaraderie is important.

“We’re all friends with each other,” she said.

But the group is split right now because the courts are closed. When they open, Sanacore said, they plan on throwing a party. “I can’t wait,” she said.

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