Ball in Town’s Court

Will tennis be indoors or out at Terry King?

    East Hampton Town has received bids from two private companies that would repair four town-owned tennis courts at the Terry King recreational center on Abraham’s Path in Amagansett in exchange for a license to operate them.
    In one option laid out in its response, Sportime, the largest tennis club operator in the metropolitan area, which last year was given an exclusive 15-year license to run the town’s enclosed hockey rink adjacent to the tennis courts, would enclose the courts in either a fabric-sided building, a pressurized bubble, or a permanent building, which would be attached to the hockey building, with a single entrance used for both. The courts would be redone with a Har-Tru surface. A second option would leave the courts outdoors, and see them resurfaced with a hard surface.
    Headed by Claude Okin of Amagansett, Sportime operates its own tennis center and camp across Abraham’s Path from the town park site, as well as a number of other facilities, including several on public land under municipal licenses, such as one on Randalls Island in New York City.
    Scott Rubinstein, the owner of East Hampton Indoor Tennis, submitted the second proposal, offering to resurface the tennis and basketball courts, and to continue to operate them as outdoor play areas.
    But with his proposal he sent a letter to the town board asking members to “beware of the slippery slope of a private business operating their private business on town property using town assets without the intended benefit to the residents of this community.”
    In order to recoup the investment needed to enclose the courts, Mr. Rubinstein said, it is likely that any business would seek a return by maintaining a right to use the courts for its private clients during “prime time,” as well as through fees higher than those usually paid by residents at a town-run facility.
    Mr. Okin said earlier this week that during an 18-week season, roughly between Memorial Day and Labor Day, he would charge $10 an hour for town residents to use the courts. During the rest of the year, he said, “it will be a regular indoor club,” with market pricing.
    However, he said he would offer discounts on court time and programs for residents, as well as time for school tennis teams to use the courts at no charge.
    Mr. Rubenstein’s proposal calls for free court use for residents during the week in May and June, as well as for school teams, along with discounted clinics and court time for residents at other times. “We didn’t look at this as a business,” he said. His proposal is to “basically try to continue it as a town facility.”
    On its 23-acre property in Amagansett, Sportime has 33 tennis courts and operates a summer camp. None of the courts are enclosed. Mr. Okin said this week that he had “been working on getting permitting for indoor courts in Amagansett for 20 years.”
    The property is in a residential zone, but could be eligible for a designation as a recreational area, which could allow Sportime to apply for site-plan approval for enclosed courts. That process would require an application to the town board for a zone change, and to the planning board as well. Mr. Okin acknowledged earlier this week that creating the indoor courts on the town’s property, should his proposal be accepted, was an easier route and more attractive, economically.
    In his letter to the board, Mr. Rubenstein said that between his business and the Ross School there are 14 indoor tennis courts in East Hampton, and they are not fully utilized. Allowing the public courts to be enclosed, he said, would be “financially devastating” to those facilities.
    The effect of privatizing town recreational facilities on the public’s access to them, and their fees, has increasingly become a topic of discussion by members of the public who have commented at town board meetings and in letters to the editor and other forums. A town board discussion of the tennis court proposals may be taken up next week.
    Some have criticized the deal the town made with Sportime on the indoor hockey arena, which allows the Sportime camp to make use of the facility during weekday daytime hours when school is not in session, at a discounted, per-hour fee to the town.
    According to Mr. Okin, Sportime paid the town a total of $26,760 in license fees, including $17,212 for use of the arena and park in conjunction with the summer camp, covering the months of 2011 for which the license was in effect. For the first full license year ending in August, he said, the total is expected to be $50,000.
    Mr. Rubinstein said yesterday that he feared that numerous camps and recreation businesses would join forces with Sportime, allowing them access to the town facilities at the discounted rate, and forcing taxpayers who are not members of the various clubs or other entities to pay the maximum rate.
    “We were transparent with the town that the underlying economic opportunity for Sportime, in conjunction with the long-term investment in the Arena, was to be able to use the Arena, and the facilities at the Terry King park, in conjunction with our summer camp programs,” Mr. Okin wrote in an e-mail.
    “Like many others on the East End, we generate virtually our entire profit for the year over about 12 weeks in June, July, and August, so the prime business value of the opportunity at the Terry King park for Sportime is during those weeks, during weekday hours. The rest of the time, it is all about community and grass-roots programs.”
    Other criticisms have centered on whether the public is being afforded adequate access at affordable prices to the indoor hockey and soccer arena under Sportime’s management.
    “We haven’t eliminated any low-cost or community programs,” Mr. Okin said last week of his business’s oversight of the rink over the past year.
    The programs offered, he said, “are bigger than ever, and as available as ever.” He provided a schedule of activities at the site.
    Youth and adult programs are offered at rates of between $2.50 and $16 an hour, which he said are “comparable if not lower” than those offered by the rink’s previous operators.
    Mr. Okin said a number of the capital improvements to the rink building that were required under Sportime’s agreement with the town, some $300,000 worth, had been completed, including the correction of safety and fire code violations, and installation of air conditioning. Others, he said, such as the installation of indoor bathrooms and a snack bar, had been held up by the need to obtain County Health Department permits, but will be completed within 30 days.
    According to the licensing agreement, signed in December 2010, the improvements were to have been completed within a year.