The US Open tennis tournament will celebrate the 50th anniversary of equal prize money for men and women at the event, part of a legacy of equality and inclusion that the Open is so proud of. But many of the US Open’s close neighbors don’t always feel included.
At 111th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, in the shadow of the elevated tracks of the No. 7 trains, thousands of people go about their business during the US Open while there is almost no interaction with one of the world’s most popular and lucrative sporting events.
Kamal Alma and his family have owned 111 Corona Discount & Candy Store, less than half a mile from Arthur Ashe Stadium, for more than 40 years. From time to time, during the week of qualifying and during the two weeks of competition, some of the event’s temporary workers filter into Alma’s shop. But he rarely sees tennis fans there and doesn’t get any noticeable boost in business from the event. Her children love tennis, but the tickets for the main draw are too expensive.
“Besides, I work all the time,” he said. “Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go.”
The US Open is one of New York City’s landmark events, drawing international attention to Queens while generating significant revenue and employing approximately 7,000 seasonal workers from around New York. But for some, it can be a better neighbor.
“We’re happy it’s here,” said Donovan Richards, the Queens borough president. “It’s really an economic driver for the borough, for the city. But if it doesn’t benefit the local community, what good is it for the people of Queens? When the three weeks are up, we’ll still be here.”
Richards said he recently began digging deeper into how the US Open interacts with the local community and that he plans to attend an event hosted by the United States Tennis Association on Tuesday to discuss matters. that. He said he recognized and appreciated that the Open donated money to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center sits on its 40-acre corner, and provided funds to improve local community project. He just wants to see more of it, which is in keeping with the huge amount the event does every year.
“I look forward to sitting down with management to really think about the ways in which this partnership can benefit the fans, the tournament and the borough,” he said. “Not to say they don’t give support. We need to see that support to address inequalities off the park and on the park.”
Since moving to the Corona and Flushing area from its former location at the tony West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, the US Open sits in its corner of the park generating revenue for the nonprofit USTA, which pays the city a percentage of the rent for the privilege. As of 2022, the event has raised $472 million and paid nearly $5 million in rent. The USTA, which paid its top executives more than $1 million in compensation, builds and pays for infrastructure, including stadiums.
More than 888,000 spectators attended the US Open last year, and at least as many are expected this year at an event that is in some ways an annual contrast of culture and class.
Many fans will drive there on the busy parkways and highways adjacent to the stadium. Some will ride the commuter rails from Manhattan, Long Island and New Jersey, and others will rush to No. 7 train from Grand Central Station. And when they see the last ball hit for the day, most return the same way, without stepping into the nearby streets and restaurants of Corona, Flushing or Jackson Heights or up to the adjacent park, where soccer and Volleyball players mingle with in-line skaters, joggers and picnickers.
“We never lost sight of the fact that we were in a public park,” said Daniel Zausner, the chief operating officer of the National Tennis Center. “We want to be a bigger player in the community, always.”
The USTA offers free admission to a week of professional tennis during the qualifying tournament before the main draw, providing an opportunity to attract future fans.
Omar Minaya, the former general manager of the Mets baseball club and now a senior adviser for the Yankees, grew up in Corona just a few blocks from where the Open site is now. He and his friends played football and baseball in the park before the Open moved to Flushing Meadows in 1978, and boxing was a popular sport in Corona, too. Few of the children played tennis. Minaya says she still sees a positive overall impact from the event but acknowledges it’s not for everyone.
“It brought a lot of attention to Queens, and that’s good,” he said. “But most of the people who go to the Open, they don’t go to Corona. It’s more of a corporate crowd than a local crowd.”
Lew Sherr, the USTA’s chief executive, said economic activity from the Open filtered through the entire region, and he pointed to a decade-old study that put the tournament’s annual economic impact at $750 million for the area. of New York City. He estimated that a similar study today would double that number.
But in Corona and nearby Elmhurst, two areas ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, many residents have little or no contact with the US Open.
Carlos Inga owns the Super Star II food stand in Corona Plaza, just off Roosevelt Avenue and 103rd Street. He has lived in Queens for 20 years but has never been to the US Open, nor have any of his friends, he said. Sometimes he would see employees wearing US Open shirts and badges, but rarely any fans, unless they got off the wrong subway stop by mistake.
“There’s definitely a disconnect,” said Richards, the borough president. “Although the stadium is less than a mile away, it has no connection. Those are the questions we’ll come up with on Tuesday. The same goes for the airport and the new soccer stadium. How do they affect the neighborhood?”
More than 40 percent of the 7,000 seasonal employees at the US Open are from Queens.
“I love working here,” said Yvette Varga, a regular seasonal maintenance worker at the Open, who is from Ozone Park in Queens but now lives in the Bronx. “We always go to this park, and anyway, every year, we have at least one cookout here. So for me, it’s just like home.”
Some employees did not have such a favorable experience. In 2022, three employees accused a US Open subcontractor of wage theft during last year’s event, and the funds were eventually restored after Zausner’s intervention.
“I wish I had known in September so I could have acted on it then, instead of hearing about it 11 months later,” Zausner said.
In 2019, Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller at the time, charged that the National Tennis Center underreported $31 million in revenue from 2014 to 2017 and therefore underpaid rent by more than $300,000. The USTA, in a letter to the deputy comptroller dated Nov. 16, 2020, and obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Law request, agreed to the $143,296.61 shortfall and paid it.
The NTC has also donated funds for the upkeep of the park, but the focus seems to be more on the tennis center, where the park benches along the path surrounding the perimeter fence have “wet paint” signs. on Tuesday. In the distance, the paint is peeling off the benches and the trash is brighter.
“When you look at it, it’s not as good as when you walk away from the stadium,” said Tina Chen, a Flushing resident and a senior at Yale University who was walking her dog, Coco, in the park. “I think it’s good to have the US Open here, for sure. But maybe they can do a lot more to fix the rest of the place as well.”