Volume 22, Number 30 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 4 - 10, 2009
C.B. 1 sees Asphalt Green subsidies as threat to youth groups
By Julie Shapiro
Worried that the new Battery Park City community center will force other local programs out of existence, Community Board 1 wants to put limits on how much aid the new center can receive.
C.B. 1 members are particularly concerned about Manhattan Youth’s Downtown Community Center, which opened last year a couple blocks away, and the nonprofit sports leagues that use the B.P.C. ballfields.
“There has to be a push for a community center that serves the community,” said Mark Costello, a C.B. 1 member and a director of Downtown Little League.
The B.P.C. community center is scheduled to open in 2011 in the base of the residential towers Milstein Properties is building adjacent to the ballfields. Asphalt Green, an Upper East Side fitness nonprofit, is slated to run the center, but they have not yet signed a contract with the Battery Park City Authority.
Under the proposed contract, Asphalt Green would receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies from the B.P.C.A. to run the center. The authority is also paying for the fit-out of the center, which costs about $29 million. One of the people most concerned about these subsidies is Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth and a C.B. 1 member.
“I’m not trying to say the Battery Park City Authority grants are wrong,” Townley said. “It’s just that they un-level the playing field because of the sheer enormity of the money.”
Townley is worried that Asphalt Green will compete with his summer camp, which he said is Manhattan Youth’s biggest “cash cow” and generates the revenue that helps him offer scholarships and free teen and senior programs. Those free programs could be in danger, Townley said.
To protect Manhattan Youth and other local nonprofits, C.B. 1 wants the Battery Park City Authority to put limits on the aid Asphalt Green receives. C.B. 1’s ballfields and community center taskforces met Monday night to discuss a draft memorandum of understanding that they hope the authority and Asphalt Green will sign.
One of the draft’s provisions is that the authority not give Asphalt Green money for any programs that might compete with the Downtown Community Center, unless the authority provides comparable subsidies to the D.C.C. Grants should be bid out competitively and tied to community services, the draft states.
The M.O.U. would also restrict Asphalt Green’s use of the ballfields and require Asphalt Green to rent space at a reduced rate to local nonprofits. Asphalt Green would have to consult a committee of community representatives before running any programs that Manhattan Youth and the local sports leagues offer.
The C.B. 1 taskforce is making minor revisions to the draft and expects to vote on it soon.
Jeff Galloway and Anthony Notaro, who led Monday night’s meeting, both said the B.P.C. Authority is receptive to the ideas behind the M.O.U.
Leticia Remauro, spokesperson for the authority, declined to comment because the community board has not yet agreed to the final language it hopes will be in the document. Asphalt Green declined to comment because the contract with the authority is not signed. The authority and Asphalt Green will not be obligated to sign the M.O.U. after it is submitted.
This new M.O.U. would replace one that was signed by the authority and C.B. 1 eight years ago. Back then, everyone thought the authority would run the center, rather than bringing in an outside operator. Since so much has changed since then, Galloway and Notaro said it made sense to draw up a new version.
The old M.O.U. included a community advisory taskforce that only met a handful of times. The new M.O.U. would mandate quarterly meetings of the taskforce.
Galloway, who wrote the new M.O.U., said the details may need some tweaking. He does not want to be overly restrictive of Asphalt Green and inadvertently prevent them from offering low-cost community amenities simply because Manhattan Youth offers similar ones.
In addition to getting a brand-new, built-out community center, Asphalt Green will also receive grants from the authority of at least $240,000 a year, and they will receive $300,000 to cover startup costs, according to preliminary arrangements. Asphalt Green will share its profits with the authority, and after five years expects to give more money to the authority than it is getting from them.
While Manhattan Youth is not receiving such generous subsidies as Asphalt Green, the Downtown Community Center is no stranger to government grants. Manhattan Youth receives about $200,000 a year from the state and city, much of it discretionary money from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Townley said.
Townley said he spends all the government money on free programs and scholarships.
“We take that money very seriously,” he said.
Local sports leagues worry that Asphalt Green’s classes and leagues will be too expensive for some children to attend. Annual membership at the B.P.C. center will cost $1,200 to $2,400.
Townley compared Asphalt Green to Whole Foods, which opened in Tribeca last year and sucked business away from several smaller grocers in the neighborhood.
“Bigger is sometimes not better,” Townley said.