Pay to play! City quietly hikes recreation fees

Pay to play! City quietly hikes recreation fees
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Tennis players are raising a racket over a scheme to double the fee to play the sport of kings on outdoor public courts, part of a citywide athletic fee hike that could make it more expensive to stay fit.

Under a quietly announced Parks Department’s proposal tennis fees will jump from $100 to $200 a year, and from $7 to $15 per hour, an effort to generate more revenue from public athletics.

Tennis players were obviously not in love with the idea.

“Doubling the fees is unreasonable,” said Robert Cooper, a Park Slope resident who was finishing a match Wednesday at the indoor Prospect Park Tennis Center on Parkside Avenue. “It’s not showing any fairness to the general public.”

Tennis aficionado Pierre Reveilles agreed: “It’s robbery! It’s not worth the price, especially when the courts are in such bad shape.”

And the fee increase only enforces the stereotype that the game is an elitist sport.

“You are taxing a minority of people who are already overburdened — and now this will be prohibitive to anyone deciding between food or medical care,” said Flatbush resident and tennis player Glenn Blake.

Even a Parks official blasted the hike.

“This will absolutely exclude people who can’t afford to pay the fees,” said Paul Campbell, the director of the indoor tennis center, which is operated by the Prospect Park Alliance and is not hiking its hourly $34–$74 fees during the indoor season.

It is not just tennis players that are being pinched. The proposal also calls for:

• Fees at recreation centers to jump from $75 to $150 a year at facilities with indoor pools; from $50 to $100 a centers without a pool; and from $10 to $25 for seniors.

• Baseball field fees, whose rates vary, will increase by 60 percent.

• Basketball court fees will increase from about $5 an hour to $8.

In total, the hikes could generate up to $4 million a year. Last year, tennis fees, last raised in 2003, brought $1.8 million to city coffers, Parks said.

The city said it put out notice of the increase a month ago, and would be reviewing the comments made at a single, unpublicized public hearing held last Tuesday on the far west side of Manhattan.

But critics said the notice was about as loud the crowd during a match point at Wimbledon.

“We got no warning,” said Windsor Terrace resident Amelia Costigan, who moderates a news group called Kensington Windsor Terrace Neighbors. “This is a regressive tax on the middle class and working people.”

If approved, tennis fees would increase in April, membership fees would increase July 1, and field use fees no earlier than fall 2011.

Tennis advocates said they are facing disproportionately higher costs per hour than other sports, noting that with team sports, the cost is less since more players absorb it.

“Someone in city government has decided that rich people are playing tennis, so we’ll just charge them way more,” said Sean Hoess, who runs a tennis group in McCarren Park, where courts were so shoddy that group members renovated them themselves last year. “The city is gouging us.”

Not so, claims Parks.

“Ballfield users actually pay far more than tennis users over the course of the year,” according to Parks spokesman Phil Abramson, who said baseball and softball leagues pay by the hour and shell out “tens of thousands of dollars” over the course of the year, which is a third of the tennis season, which runs from April to November.

“There is no comparable tennis permit for ballfields,” he said.

And regarding the conditions of Brooklyn tennis courts, Parks spokewoman Vickie Karp added, “We do our best to maintain them in and keep them in shape at all times. We are always open to hearing from anyone through 311 about a condition we may not already be addressing.”