Volume 19 • Issue 10 | July 21- - 27, 2006

Rendering of the exterior of the prposed Battery Park City recreation center which will overlook the ballfields. See map below.

Kiddie pool, teen activities added to B.P.C. rec center

By Ronda Kaysen

After more than two decades as a bona fide neighborhood, Battery Park City is finally getting a recreation center where it can work on its Downward Facing Dog.

Construction will soon begin on a new community center for the 9,000-resident neighborhood. Equipped with yoga studios, a swimming pool, an auditorium and a café, the 50,000 sq. ft. space will open to the public — and offer membership — as soon as 2010.

“The community is in dire need of this community center. We are thrilled to have it,” said Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin at a recent meeting to discuss the new center. Sitting with her curly haired, one-year-old baby on her lap, Menin added, “My young son Mason will enjoy it.”

The center will occupy the lower levels of two new towers that will be built on North End Ave. between Warren and Murray Sts., next to the ballfields. It will also include 16,000 sq. ft. of landscaped terraces with ample seating areas facing the ballfields. Fees to learn yoga positions like Downward Facing Dog and for the center’s other programs have not yet been decided.

The Battery Park City Authority is in the final stages of negotiating a lease with Millstein Properties to develop the parcels — known as Site 23/24. Once the lease is finalized, construction on the site will begin. The authority said a few weeks ago that construction may require closing the ballfields for a year, but the subject was not raised at Tuesday’s meeting and no decision has been made yet.

The center has been a long time coming. Discussions about it have been floating around since the early 1990s. In early 2001, the authority signed a memorandum of understanding promising the community center, but after Sept. 11 all plans ground to a halt and they weren’t resumed until 2004. “There has always been an agreement between the Battery Park City Authority and the community that part of a community center would be opened,” said authority spokesperson Leticia Remauro at the July 18 meeting at the B.P.C.A. office.

The community center has undergone some changes since plans for it were first laid out. An indoor running track has been tossed to make way for a kiddie pool that will sit alongside a seven-lane swimming pool. Public restrooms have been added and a family changing room, so families need not choose between male or female locker rooms. Visitors will also be able to lounge at a 37-seat café and park their strollers nearby. Want to learn to cook? The center will come equipped with a culinary arts center that could also double as a catering kitchen if the 183-seat auditorium is ever rented out for a private event. A multi-level, landscaped terrace will circle the east side of the center, facing the ballfields. The auditorium will open out onto the terrace, and there will be outdoor seating facing the ballfields for 100 people. Smaller terraces will accommodate small groups looking for a place to soak up the sun.

A teen lounge was scrapped from the plan entirely. Instead, there will be an emphasis on teen-friendly programming.

“The teen lounge never works,” said Debby Hirshman, the founding executive director of the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side and a consultant on the Battery Park City project. “Instead, what we did was set up spaces that we know will be used by teens,” such as Ping-Pong and teen classes.

Most of the major elements still remain. The center will include a gymnasium, cardio fitness center, weight room and ample classroom space. But more classroom space has been added for pilates, spinning, dance, arts and crafts and other activities.

The center is a long way off, but already different factions are vying for access and control. Before authority consultants could begin their PowerPoint presentation, task force members were peppering officials with questions about who would run the center and how membership issues would be sorted out. Many wanted to know how Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, a nonprofit that will run a new 28,000 sq. ft. community center in neighboring Tribeca, would fit into the equation.

“There are other community groups who are looking for space. Do they get equal time as Bob’s center does?” asked Honey Berk, a Battery Park City resident.

Authority president James Cavanaugh assured the group that a request for proposal for operations would be issued, but it was clear that Townley would play a key role in how this new center will run. “It is a separate entity from Townley’s center, however they are going to work very closely together,” said C.B. 1 member Anthony Notaro.

Townley has discussed the plans for the Battery Park City Center with Hirshman and Tessa Huxley, executive director of the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, which is connected to the authority.

Townley did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

The center is intended for the entire Community Board 1 district, which stretches all the way to the East River. But it sits squarely in Battery Park City, a neighborhood isolated from the rest of the district by the West Side Highway, setting up the groundwork for a turf war over the center even before it’s built.

“I would like for the students of P.S. and I.S. 89 to have access to the center during the school day,” said Dennis Gault, president of the P.S. 89 P.T.A., which is across the street from the new center.

But P.S./I.S. 89 is not the only school in the district, and that point did not go unnoticed. “If you’re looking at it as a Community Board 1 space, there are high schools down here that have no gyms at all,” said C.B. 1 member George Olsen. “There’s going to be more pressure to use that space.”

Stuyvesant High School is one block further north at Chambers St. and P.S. 234 is on Warren St., across West St. And then there is P.S. 150 on Greenwich St. and Millennium High School, which has no gym at all, in the Financial District.

The center’s planners are confident the kinks will be worked out long before it opens for business. “The beauty here is that we’re looking at a 2009, 2010 opening date,” said Remauro. “We have time to include the community.”


Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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