Volume 16 • Issue 31 | December 30 - January 8, 2004

Gym and pool for East Side community center
By Lincoln Anderson

The community facility’s first floor plan will include a basketball gym.

Representatives of the YMCA and University Settlement presented plans on Dec. 15 for a new Lower East Side community center and recreational facility to be located in the residential building being built on the south side of E. Houston St. in the Cooper Sq. Urban Renewal Area.

Ground was broken on the site by Chrystie Venture Partners in October, with an official groundbreaking on Dec. 1.

There was a spare turnout of only about 10 local residents and a handful of Community Board 3 members for the meeting, held in the auditorium of P.S. 20 on Essex St. Several people complained that the meeting had not been adequately publicized.

The community center, which will cost $8.5 million to build, is expected to open before the end of 2005.

Presenting the plans were Paul Custer, vice president of operations of the YMCA of Greater New York, and Michael Zisser, executive director of University Settlement. A representative of the Chinatown YMCA also was with them, though did not speak. Currently the Chinatown YMCA operates out of several sites.

A Cooper Sq. Task Force, appointed by the mayor in 1999 to draft a comprehensive development plan for the renewal area’s remaining 4.3 acres, resulted in the issuing of a request for proposals for developers in March 2000. The R.F.P. required construction of a 30,000-sq.-ft. community facility in the project’s first phase — the building on the south side of Houston St. between the Bowery and Chrystie St. In the end, the developer allocated over 40,000 sq. ft. for the community center.

Both the YMCA and University Settlement were part of development teams’ whose bids did not win the project, but they were asked by winning bidder, Avalon Bay, if they would be willing to partner to run the community center.

As Zisser put it, the main challenge facing the two organizations was: How do they both occupy the same space for the benefit of everyone involved? Another challenge was financial, since the city would not underwrite the center’s operation. The cost of operating the center will be from $1 million to $1.2 million annually, Zisser said, including everything from lifeguard salaries to electricity. Another challenge was to get the developer to build the facility — instead of just leaving an empty shell to be furnished, all that the R.F.P. required of the developer.

The center’s goal will be to attract “the widest swath of the community,” Zisser said.

Yet, the community center won’t be attracting anyone through its visibility: The only external clue of its presence will be its entrance on the Bowery, which will be the size of a storefront.

The center will be on three levels, in the cellar and on the first and second floors.

A one-story staircase and elevator will take people from the Bowery entrance down to the cellar level, where most of the facility is located. Here there will be a check-in area with desks for both the Y and University Settlement. Also on this level there will be three community offices, three seminar rooms and one large multipurpose classroom, a cardiovascular machine area, a pool and an extensive locker room area. The pool’s specifications are designed to accommodate high school sports.

The plans handed out at the Dec. 15 meeting do not designate any area for weightlifting machines or free weights.

A staircase and elevator in the center of the cellar level will take users up to the first floor, which will have a large basketball gym. Zisser explained that, because of space limitations, the gym will have limited capacity for spectator viewing, with probably only a few hundred seats provided by foldout bleachers.

Another level up, on the second floor will be four classrooms.

The F-train subway tunnel runs diagonally under the building site and will be on just the other side of the west wall of the community facility’s cellar level.

When the building, to be called Avalon Chrystie Place, is competed ownership of the community center will be conveyed jointly to the Y and University Settlement as a condominium. Referring to the Boys’ Club of New York’s effort to sell its Milliken Clubhouse at E. Houston and Pitt Sts., Zisser noted there are “numerous protections” to insure the YMCA/University Settlement community center will remain as such — “so that what’s happening at the other end of the neighborhood won’t happen.”

The Y and University Settlement are currently working through details of space use by the two organizations, as well as membership issues and community use.

The Y will be the primary contact for the gym, pool and aerobics. University Settlement will be the primary contact for the seminar rooms and classrooms.

The classrooms and seminar rooms will be allocated at least 50 percent of the time to community groups on request, based on a monthly rate or an hourly rate of something like $15 to $20 per hour, Zisser said. Forty percent of the time in these rooms will be for University Settlement programs and groups. The YMCA will have use of the rooms for 10 percent of the time and will be able to rent them out.

The community offices are 100 percent for community use, Zisser said, explaining this is based on the idea that there may be community groups that can’t afford their own space that could use these offices.

The large multipurpose room will be 80 percent for community use and 10 percent each for the Y and University Settlement’s use.

Sixty percent of the time, the pool will be open for community use, including University Settlement 10 percent of the time and the Y 10 percent of the time. Forty percent of the time the pool will be open for fee-based membership use. The same percentages for use of the pool apply to the gym.
The time breakdowns for use of the cardiovascular area haven’t been worked out yet, Zisser said.

They are thinking of the center’s being open from 6 a.m. till 10 p.m., 11 p.m. or midnight and it could be open seven days a week, if there is a demand, Zisser said.

As for the Y membership, it will cost $50 a month, considerably less expensive than for other Manhattan YMCAs. Ten percent of the membership will be budgeted for assisting those who can’t afford to pay the full fee. Total membership will be about 2000 persons. If two adults join together, the second will get 30 percent off his or her membership fee.

However, residents at the meeting were concerned that the center remain affordable and have adequate hours for community use.

Councilmember Alan Gerson, who attended the meeting, said he would work to insure the community’s needs are met.

“I’m certainly going to play a strong role as liaison to make sure we have the best outcome for a cross-section of the community,” Gerson said, adding the “dialogical approach” will be most effective.

Custer noted that within 60 to 90 days of the project’s groundbreaking, they are required to produce graphs showing how use time will be allocated at the center.

At the moment, the percentage breakdown of times of use “are not written in stone,” he said.

Zisser assured that use during the “bulk of hours” at the center will be free or for minimal cost. The after-school hours, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. will be reserved for community use, Zisser said.

Harry Wieder, a disabled Board 3 member, asked if the facility will have backup elevators, to which the answer was no.“Then get a very good elevator maintenance man,” he recommended.

Steve Herrick, executive director of the Cooper Sq. Committee, said there should be at least one or two more community meetings to give more people a chance to hear about and comment on the project.

Barton Prissant, chairperson of C.B. 3’s Housing Committee and of the Cooper Sq. Task Force, said there should be another meeting in two to three months. Prissant asked if it was possible for a sign for the community center to be put up on the building’s Houston St. side, “so at least it’s a little more visible.”



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