Volume 21, Number 39 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 6 - 12, 2009
B.P.C.A. sees more green in YMCA bid
By Julie Shapiro
The two organizations dueling to run the new Battery Park City community center share a focus on children and sports but have starkly different financial plans.
The organizations, Asphalt Green and the YMCA, presented their proposals last week in private meetings with the Battery Park City Authority and several Community Board 1 members. The YMCA wants to add the B.P.C. center to its portfolio of 22 other centers around the city. The B.P.C. center, expected to open at the end of 2010, would be Asphalt Green’s first expansion since opening its 5.5-acre fitness complex on the Upper East Side.
Documents obtained by Downtown Express show that Asphalt Green expects to take longer to turn a profit on the center than the YMCA, while charging most people higher membership fees than the YMCA.
However, “Everyone tends to be leaning toward Asphalt Green,” said a C.B. 1 member who attended the closed meetings last week. “They came in and did a presentation that was much more tuned in to community.”
The member — who answered questions regarding the documents on the condition of anonymity since the information is considered confidential under state law — was concerned that both proposals focus almost exclusively on sports. In a neighborhood already well served by youth athletic programs, many B.P.C. residents envisioned the new community center having a cultural focus, including theater and culinary arts.
“It’s completely redundant,” the C.B. 1 member said of both plans. “It’s going to knock someone out of business, if not everybody.”
The C.B. 1 member also said the proposals were “way too kid-oriented,” since most people who live in Battery Park City are adults.
Kevin Shermach, spokesperson for the YMCA, said the authority’s request for proposals did not ask for a plan for cultural uses.
The C.B. 1 member preferred the YMCA’s proposal, since the YMCA has already spoken to neighborhood cultural organizations, including the Church Street School for Music and Art, about programming the center. But other board members thought the YMCA’s proposal was “too cookie-cutter,” the board member said.
Community board members do not usually help evaluate proposals, but the Battery Park City Authority agreed to include them this time because the community center is largely for the neighborhood’s residents, though it will also serve commuters. Linda Belfer, chairperson of C.B. 1’s B.P.C. Committee, saw the presentations but would not discuss them at Tuesday night’s B.P.C. Committee meeting.
“I’m sorry but I’m sworn to secrecy,” Belfer told the committee, not even mentioning the names of the two potential operators, even though the authority confirmed them in a Downtown Express exclusive two months ago.
Ann DeFalco, another C.B. 1 member who saw the presentations, said she liked both proposals, but did not disclose any details.
“It’s just a matter of what the right fit is for the community,” DeFalco said. “It would be great to have either of them.”
The 50,000-square-foot community center will go in the base of the residential towers Milstein Properties is building at Sites 23 and 24, adjacent to the B.P.C. ballfields. The center will have a gym, a 25-yeard pool, a smaller pool, a fitness center, dance studios, a 164-seat multi-use room, classrooms and lounges. The authority will spend $27 million building out the center and then will turn it over to the operator.
Both operators’ proposals feature a day camp, competitive youth sports, swim lessons and senior activities. The YMCA proposal also includes creative writing workshops, language classes and a teen leadership program.
The biggest difference between the proposals is in the financing. Asphalt Green will lose more than $3 million in startup costs and its first three years of operations, while the YMCA will lose just under $2 million and will start turning a profit a year before Asphalt Green, according to the documents they submitted to the authority. The YMCA seemed more confident about the financial viability of its plan than Asphalt Green did, the C.B. 1 member who spoke to Downtown Express said.
Asphalt Green expects startup costs of $500,000 and then expects a $1.5 million deficit the first year. The YMCA plans to have about $437,000 in startup costs and expects to lose $1.3 million the first year. By the second year, the YMCA’s deficit would drop under $200,000, but Asphalt Green would still be losing just over $775,000.
Asphalt Green wants the Battery Park City Authority to cover the center’s projected $3 million losses, making quarterly payments until the center is solvent, according to the documents it submitted. The YMCA is not negotiating with the B.P.C.A. over paying for losses, said Kevin Shermach, a YMCA spokesperson.
When the center turns a profit, the YMCA will split the profit with the authority 50-50, while Asphalt Green is proposing to give the authority 40 percent. The authority is expected to continue negotiating the terms with both groups.
Spokespeople for the authority and Asphalt Green both declined to comment. The C.B. 1 source said Jim Cavanaugh, president of the B.P.C.A., did not look happy about paying extra money to Asphalt Green.
Asphalt Green is projecting higher operating expenses than YMCA but is also projecting higher revenues. Asphalt Green’s operating costs will start at about $5.5 million the first year and climb to just over $6.6 million the fifth year. The YMCA’s operating costs will start at about $3.1 million and climb to $4.2 million the fifth year.
While Asphalt Green has higher operating expenses, it will also have higher revenues. Asphalt Green’s operating revenue will start at $4.2 million and climb to $7.3 million the fifth year. The YMCA’s operating revenue will start at $1.9 million and climb to $6.5 million the fifth year.
The Battery Park City Authority asked Asphalt Green last fall to reduce its membership fees to be more in line with the YMCA. Asphalt Green was planning to charge about $115 a month for an individual membership but dropped it to $100 a month, according to the documents. The YMCA will charge closer to $93 a month, the fee at the Vanderbilt Y in Midtown.
Asphalt Green will generally be more expensive for families as well, because they charge an additional $50 for each child after the first two.