On Saturday, dozens of Bayside residents rallied in front of the North Shore Tennis and Racquets Club at 34-28 214th Place to express their concern about the future of the site.
According to members of the Bayside Historical Society (BHS), which organized the rally, the club’s board of directors wants to sell the site to a developer for $12.2 million.
The buyer would knock down the historic institution to build residential housing, while the $12.2 million would reportedly be divided among vested members based on how long they’ve been on the board of the club.
Another unnamed local developer presented the board with an alternative proposal that would build housing on parts of the property, but keep the clubhouse and some tennis courts.
At the rally, BHS President Paul DiBenedetto said his organization would ideally prefer that the tennis club stay fully intact. He said they would even like the city’s Parks Department to buy the property and run the site.
“BHS is unilaterally opposed to any plan that would raze the entire property and its clubhouse,” DiBenedetto said.
But if retaining the whole property is not a viable option, the Bayside group would accept the partial-development plan, as long as the clubhouse and some courts remain.
“It’s not ideal, it’s not what we want, but we’ll accept it,” DiBenedetto said. “To lose the whole thing entirely is awful.”
The tennis club was formed in 1909 as a “cooperative effort” of friends and neighbors, according to its website. Located at 38th Avenue and 221st Street, it was just one of two courts in the entire neighborhood.
It formally became the Bayside Tennis Club in 1914. At that time, dues were $8 for family members and $5 for adult single members.
The club relocated to its current location at 214th Place in 1925, and built its historic clubhouse in 1929. It changed its name to North Shore Tennis and Racquets Club in 1954.
Today, the club has more than 850 members. The site features 14 Har-Tru courts on 2.65 acres, according to DiBenedetto.
The club is also a member of the United States Tennis Association. Tennis legends who have played there include John McEnroe and Arthur Ashe.
“It’s not just a place to play tennis,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s a serious, inspiring, professional facility devoted to the game and to the art of the game.”
The site is home to both the “Go! Tennis” program, offering lessons for both kids and adults, as well as the Max Velocity Fitness Center, a gym operating inside the clubhouse. The Auburndale Soccer and Lacrosse clubs also play there in the offseason.
Carol Marian, a trustee for the Bayside Historical Society, said even though it’s a private entity, the club is still “open to the public for a fee.” She recalls attending many first communion parties there, and her grandchildren still take lessons at the club.
“It’s not an elite club, it’s a neighborhood facility that is used by countless kids,” Marian said. “It’s a huge asset to this community.”
The longtime Bayside resident said she’s concerned about overdevelopment in the suburban neighborhood. She said although it’s zoned mostly for a one-family home, a developer can still purchase it and request a zoning change or variance to build multi-family dwellings.
Marian called on local elected officials to support their efforts to save the tennis club. The Bayside Historical Society also plans to submit an emergency proposal to make the club into a historic landmark.
During the rally, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein urged members of the club to reconsider their decision to sell the property.
“Given the long history that it has here, it’s part of the Bayside community,” he said. “We love having it here.”
Councilman Paul Vallone added in a statement that he hopes the board of directions comes to terms on a plan to preserve the tennis club.
“The club’s long time at this site has made the organization a part of Bayside’s history,” Vallone said, “and hopefully it will remain for the next generation.”
DiBenedetto said he realizes the club is a private institution, and the best thing neighbors can do is continue urging the board not to raze the historic site.
He said he’s not sure if selling the property is a done deal, but he believes the vested members can pursue an alternative plan.
“If they did that,” DiBenedetto said, “they’d earn a ton of respect from the community.”