Volume 22, Number 12 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 7 - 13, 2009

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

The Battery Park City community center, under construction with two residential towers, have more adult programs than originally planned, and it will probably be run by Asphalt Green.

With kids’ programs aplenty, rec center may target adults

By Julie Shapiro

Construction of the new community center in Battery Park City is flying along, but the details of the center’s programming are taking longer to hammer into place.

The major concern is that the 50,000-square-foot center, slated to open at the beginning of 2011, will displace existing programs in the neighborhood, including Manhattan Youth and the nonprofit sports leagues.

“I’m troubled that these issues haven’t been taken seriously,” said Mark Costello, a director of Downtown Little League.

The league runs spring programs on the B.P.C. ballfields adjacent to the new center. Asphalt Green, the likely operator of the center, runs similar but much more expensive programs at its original location, a fitness center on the Upper East Side.

The Battery Park City Authority is working with Costello and the leaders of other local groups to address their concerns, and Costello said he remains optimistic that everyone has good intentions, though he is frustrated by the slow pace of the negotiations.

“This should all have been worked out a long time ago,” Costello said.

Jim Cavanaugh, president of the B.P.C.A., said the authority would continue controlling the ballfields and the leagues would not be affected.

Bob Townley, president of Manhattan Youth, arguably has the most to lose when the new B.P.C. center opens. Townley opened his own nonprofit Downtown Community Center just over a year ago right across West St. from the new center. He runs many programs that are similar to Asphalt Green’s offerings on the Upper East Side and is concerned their offerings could supplant him.

Specifically, Townley worries that if Asphalt Green cuts into Manhattan Youth’s after-school and summer camp clientele, Manhattan Youth won’t have enough money to support its free senior and teen programs. Townley said Asphalt Green and the B.P.C. Authority understand his concerns and are amenable to his suggestions.

“It’s too soon to jump for joy or criticize,” Townley said.

Cavanaugh confirmed that the authority wants to avoid programming overlap.

“We think there’s plenty of room for both community centers to thrive,” he said.

Townley said that even apart from his concern about competition from Asphalt Green, it wouldn’t make sense for the new center to focus on young children, when many neighborhood programs are struggling to fill seats and some have closed.

“They’re not going to make it sustainable with children’s programs,” Townley said. “Do we need another camp down here? I don’t think so. Another preschool? No.”

The new community center will go in the base of the new residential towers Milstein Properties is building along N. End Ave. The authority will pay $27 million to build out the space and then will turn the center over to an operator who will run programs and generate money for the authority.

Cavanaugh confirmed to Downtown Express that the center’s operator will almost certainly be Asphalt Green, and the contract could be signed as soon as next month. The authority was initially deciding between Asphalt Green and the YMCA to run the center, but the YMCA withdrew its proposal earlier this year, YMCA spokesperson Kevin Shermach said. Shermach declined to give a reason for withdrawing.

When Asphalt Green and the Y submitted their proposals to the authority last year, the Y had stronger financials. Asphalt Green expected to lose about $3 million in its first few years and would take longer to turn a profit than the Y, which would have only lost about $2 million.

But some in the community preferred Asphalt Green’s approach to the center, which they said was more tailored to Lower Manhattan’s needs. While Asphalt Green’s Upper East Side center focuses on athletics, the B.P.C. center will have broader programming, Cavanaugh said.

“This is not just going to be a replica of the center on the Upper East Side,” he said.

Asphalt Green will work with local groups to bring in cultural events, and a community taskforce will help advise the authority and Asphalt Green, Cavanaugh said.

An Asphalt Green spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

If members of the community have been vocal about what they don’t want at the new center, they also have many ideas about what they do want.

Townley thinks the neighborhood needs more programs for people in their 20s and 30s who don’t have children. Since Asphalt Green specializes in athletics, maybe they could offer sports leagues and events for the young professionals demographic, similar to 92YTribeca but without the cultural focus, he said.

Chelsea-Lyn Rudder, 25, a Community Board 1 member who lives on West St., agreed that there is a need for more adult services in the neighborhood, since most existing programs are geared toward children. She suggested that the center host business and social networking events. Offbeat athletic leagues with sports like dodge ball could also be popular, along with a health club option that undercut competitors’ prices, she said.

Tiffany Winbush, 26, another C.B. 1 member, said she and her husband would be more interested in cultural programs than athletic ones. She thinks the center could succeed by replicating 92YTribeca’s affordable prices and laid-back atmosphere. Winbush added that the neighborhood also needs more restaurants and shops.

Everyone in Battery Park City has their own idea of the most-needed service, and half a dozen residents who spoke to Downtown Express listed grief support groups, dating mixers, a bank, an indoor playing field, free B.P.C. Parks Conservancy programs and a community gathering space for teens, singles or seniors among their top choices.

Ruth Ohman, a senior citizens’ leader at Gateway Plaza, would like the new center to have free lectures, movies and classes for seniors, as well as a drop-in lounge for socializing.

“We don’t really have a place to call our own down here, and that would be nice,” Ohman said.

Martha Gallo, one of the leaders of the B.P.C. Neighbors’ Association after 9/11 and an early voice of support for the community center, said there are plenty of needs for the new center to serve.

“There’s going to be enough room for everybody,” she said.





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