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BY JOSH ROGERS | (Posted Nov. 25, 2013 and updated Nov. 26) The Stuyvesant Community Center has been saved and will not close as planned next month, under an agreement announced Monday by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Battery Park City Authority Chairperson Dennis Mehiel.
“The B.P.C.A. understands the importance of affordable community space for people of all income levels, and it is clear there is a need for this facility to continue operating,” Mehiel said in a prepared statement Nov. 25. “I look forward to having Speaker Silver’s assistance in fostering a productive dialogue, as we establish a long-term solution to keep the center operating and affordable for local residents.”
The announcement was first reported by DowntownExpress.com last week.
The authority’s September announcement that it was planning to close the center Dec. 20 opened up class divisions in the neighborhood. The B.P.C.A. cited the opening of the more expensive Asphalt Green earlier this year as a reason to allow the closing, but many Downtowners say Asphalt’s prices are beyond their reach.
“Speaking for the middle and lower classes, are we not a part of this community,” 16-year-old Michael DeMaria asked Community Board 1 last month before the board passed a resolution asking for the center to remain open.
DeMaria, a nearby Tribeca resident, said the Stuyvesant Center is “about everyone regardless of how much money they make. Asphalt Green is the complete opposite.”
Silver and Mehiel agreed to form a committee to come up with a way to keep the center on Chambers St. open. A source familiar with the discussions, said it is not yet clear whether there will be any community representation on the committee.
Authority officials had previously said the center — which has two gyms, a weight room and a pool — was losing members along with about $200,000 a year, but members of Community Board 1 countered that the declining membership was due to the fact that the school’s pool had been closed for more than a year.
Kevin McCabe, Mehiel’s assistant, wrote in an email to Downtown Express that “it is still too early to determine exactly what the financing structure and operational management will look like, but the objective will be to implement a more cost effective business model with additional funding sources. Of course, maintaining affordability for residents will be paramount.”
Silver said in a statement: “I am thrilled to work with Chairman Mehiel and the B.P.C.A. to find a solution which will allow this vital community resource to remain open as a public amenity. This is critically important for our Lower Manhattan families…. The Stuyvesant High School Community Center has served our community well for 20 years. I fought hard to secure this space …and I have made it a priority to see that our community has continued access to this wonderful facility.”
Silver and other local elected leaders maintained that the center’s closing would have violated a “binding commitment” going back more than two decades under which the authority pledged to run and maintain a community center in exchange for the city approval to build the high school.
It was actually the authority which filed a lawsuit 20 years ago to compel the Board of Education to allow the authority to open the center.
Silver, who has been the state’s most powerful legislator for nearly two decades, has strong influence over the B.P.C.A. as he controls a vote on its supervising board, the state’s Public Authorities Control Board.
Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, said “this is great news for the community,” calling the Stuy center a “great resource that needs to be developed….
“I want to thank the Battery Park City Authority for listening to the community, which is not easy to do sometimes.”
Silver’s office declined to comment beyond the statement.