Volume 22, Number 23 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | October 16 - 22, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
Residential buildings under construction will also have an Asphalt Green community center.
Authority puts in more green to woo Asphalt Green
An Upper East Side fitness nonprofit was designated this week as the operator of the new Battery Park City community center.
Asphalt Green, which offers some free and reduced-cost programs for children and seniors, plans to open a 50,000-square-foot B.P.C. center in 2011. Downtown Express was the first to report last April that the Battery Park City Authority was leaning toward Asphalt Green to run the center, but the authority board just gave its approval this week. The final contract should be signed soon.
“This is the most exciting opportunity we’ve had,” said Andrew Nussbaum, chairperson of Asphalt Green’s board, before the authority’s vote Tuesday morning. He said the negotiation had been long and complicated, and he emphasized that Asphalt Green would work with the authority and the community to get through “future bumps in the road.”
The community center will go in the base of the residential towers Milstein Properties is building adjacent to the B.P.C. ballfields. Milstein is building the core and shell of the center for about $26 million, and the authority is fitting out the space for about $29 million.
The authority and a committee of local residents picked Asphalt Green over the YMCA, which also submitted a proposal but withdrew it earlier this year.
Jim Cavanaugh, president of the authority, criticized the YMCA’s proposal as too cookie-cutter.
“What the community wanted was something that was more tailored to this community,” Cavanaugh said. “Asphalt Green was more willing to go that road.”
The authority also questioned the YMCA’s financial projections, saying they were too pessimistic at the outset and too optimistic several years in. The YMCA projected turning a profit faster than Asphalt Green, and the YMCA also said it would not need subsidies from the authority, while Asphalt Green will need hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Kevin Shermach, spokesperson for the YMCA, said in an e-mail, “We wish Asphalt Green the best of luck in its work to meet the needs of the Battery Park City community.”
The community center will include two pools, a gym and a theater. Asphalt Green will run the athletics programs — including a free learn-to-swim program for public school students, camps, senior activities and indoor soccer, basketball and gymnastics classes — and will work with other community groups to provide cultural programming.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Anthony Notaro, chairperson of Community Board 1’s taskforce on the center. Notaro expects the taskforce to meet next month to begin advising Asphalt Green on their cultural and community programs.
One of the community’s chief concerns is that Asphalt Green not replicate the many programs the neighborhood already has, including those at Manhattan Youth’s Downtown Community Center and the low-cost youth sports leagues on the ballfields next to the center. Asphalt Green will not control programming on the ballfields.
Tom Merrill, president of Downtown Little League, said he was initially concerned about Asphalt Green displacing existing leagues, but after meeting with Asphalt Green executives, “It has the potential to be a very good thing,” he said.
The new center will have indoor batting cages Merrill hopes the Little League will be able to use, and Asphalt Green may field a more competitive travel baseball team that would supplement Downtown’s offerings.
Merrill added that not every family will be able to afford the annual membership of $1,200 to $2,400, and he hopes Asphalt Green will offer scholarships.
An Asphalt Green spokesperson declined to comment on that question or any other, since the contract with the authority has not been signed. Christopher Dobens, the spokesperson, issued a statement on the authority’s affirmative vote, saying “We at Asphalt Green are delighted by this news, look forward to continuing the contract negotiations, and hope to finalize them soon.”
The authority’s vote Tuesday was not unanimous — Charles Urstadt, vice chairperson, objected to the high cost of building the center (about $1,000 per square foot) and wanted to see a breakdown of how much of the money was going to the fitness portion and how much was going to community programs.
“I have very deep reservations about the economics of this thing,” Urstadt said. “We need a true financial analysis.”
Carol Tweedy, Asphalt Green’s executive director, said the fitness and community components were intertwined and could not be separated.
Cavanaugh said the authority was not looking to profit from the community center, which was a gift to the neighborhood.
“Community centers don’t make money, and we’re not trying to pretend that they do,” Cavanaugh said. The authority will approve the center’s annual budget.
Alexandra Altman, executive vice president for the authority, added that it was necessary to build the center in order to get the community’s support to build the Milstein towers on what used to be ballfield space.
“That was not a popular move,” Altman said. “It was a trade.”
Now that the authority is receiving ground lease payments from Milstein, “We come out significantly ahead,” Altman said.
Still, the authority will have to spend much more money on the project under Asphalt Green than it would have under the YMCA, assuming the YMCA’s numbers were accurate. While the YMCA did not ask for any financial assistance from the authority and simply proposed splitting its profits 50-50, Asphalt Green will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of assistance.
Before the center opens, the authority will pay Asphalt Green $300,000 to cover startup costs. Once the center is open, Asphalt Green will receive $80,000 a year to manage the center, plus payments of $288,600, $213,000 and $162,400 for each of the first three years respectively, and $160,000 a year thereafter.
Asphalt Green initially proposed giving the authority 40 percent of its profits, but under the deal struck with the authority, Asphalt Green will give up 60 percent of its profits for the first three years it turns a profit, and then will split the profits 50-50 after that.
Asphalt Green expects to first turn a profit of a little less than $170,000 in its fourth year. By the fifth year, Asphalt Green expects to make just over $580,000, and that year the authority would finally receive more money back from Asphalt Green than the authority was paying them. In contrast, the YMCA had predicted a net income of over $2 million in its fifth year.
Once Asphalt Green moves into Battery Park City, the center will offer programs in other parts of Lower Manhattan as well, including in local public schools. Asphalt Green already started that effort this fall by facilitating recess at P.S. 276, which just opened with kindergarten classes in Tweed Courthouse. Rather than the usual chaos of recess, which leaves some children running wild and others sitting alone, the Asphalt Green workers provide team-building activities that can be done in a small space.
Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance and a former representative of Asphalt Green, said she looked forward to the opening of their new center. With Downtown’s population growing rapidly, she sees plenty of needs for Asphalt Green to fill.
“What I think we need is more,” Berger said, “more of everything.”