Renderings of the gymnasium and pool Asphalt Green is planning to open on North End Ave. in 2012.
Asphalt Green lays the groundwork for B.P.C. center
By Julie Shapiro
It’s official: Asphalt Green is coming to Battery Park City.
Ending months of closed-door negotiations, Asphalt Green finally signed a deal late last month to run a new community center next to the B.P.C. ballfields. Opening in 2012, the $55 million center will mark Asphalt Green’s first expansion from its Upper East Side fitness center.
“We’re thrilled about the opportunity to be in Battery Park City,” Carol Tweedy, executive director of Asphalt Green, said in a phone interview. “It seemed like the perfect place to go.”
The 50,000-square-foot center, in the base of Milstein Properties’ residential towers on N. End Ave., will include two pools, a gym and a theater. Asphalt Green will bring many of its well-known programs down from the Upper East Side, including free learn-to-swim classes for children. The center will also include cultural and community programming that Asphalt Green has not yet finalized.
“As we come to learn the needs of the community and find opportunities, we will see significant things that need to be done,” Tweedy said. “Now that the contract is signed, we will begin to talk to people.”
Asphalt Green inked the deal with the Battery Park City Authority on Jan. 27, finalizing discussions that had been underway for more than a year. While the deal delineates many specific terms, including hundreds of thousands of dollars of subsides for Asphalt Green, it is vague on some of the issues that most concern the community.
Local groups that run children’s activities, including Manhattan Youth and Downtown Little League, have worried that Asphalt Green could duplicate their programs. The contract does not forbid Asphalt Green from competing directly with existing groups.
Mark Costello, a director of Downtown Little League, said he hopes Asphalt Green will focus on unmet needs in the neighborhood.
“This could be a great thing, but it has to be done correctly,” Costello said. He pointed out that it is in Asphalt Green’s interest to offer unique programs.
Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, which runs the Downtown Community Center a few blocks away from the new Asphalt Green center, said now is the time for in-depth conversations about Asphalt Green’s plans.
“There’s still a lot of working out to do,” Townley said. “This requires an analysis that is frankly more complicated than school zoning.”
Tweedy said she would be happy to have those conversations, but she does not think competition in fitness programs is a concern, given the problem of childhood obesity.
“There is more than enough room for all of us,” she said. “The need is so enormous. We are the fattest country in the world. We need to get people moving.”
But Community Board 1 is still concerned about protecting existing programs and last month voted on a memorandum of understanding they hope the B.P.C.A. and Asphalt Green will sign. The board wants to limit the amount of public money Asphalt Green receives for programs that compete with the Downtown Community Center. The board also wants to restrict Asphalt Green’s use of the adjacent ballfields and require Asphalt Green to provide space to local nonprofits at a reduced rate.
Anthony Notaro, chairperson of the board’s community center taskforce, said he was optimistic that the B.P.C.A. and Asphalt Green would sign the agreement.
Tweedy referred questions on the proposed M.O.U. to the authority, which did not comment.
Another issue that the Asphalt Green contract left unresolved is how Asphalt Green will run cultural and community programs that are unrelated to fitness. Asphalt Green has not met with local cultural groups yet but plans to do so soon, Tweedy said. She did not know how much of the center’s space and time would be reserved for non-fitness programs and could not say whether nonprofits would receive free or reduced-rate space.
“I anticipate that there will be multiple demands on the spaces,” Tweedy said. “It’s a juggling process, and we’ll just have to go through that. There will be a good balance.”
The contract also does not lock in a membership fee, which will likely range from $1,200 to $2,400. Asphalt Green will provide some scholarships for programs, Tweedy said.
The contract, which lasts for 10 years with two five-year renewal options, is more specific about the finances. Asphalt Green will receive $300,000 to cover startup costs, and the Battery Park City Authority will also build out the entire space and provide all furniture, equipment and technology. 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 will also get free office space in the Verdesian rental building, courtesy of the authority.
Once Asphalt Green starts turning a profit, the B.P.C.A. will get 60 percent of the profit for three years, and then Asphalt Green and the authority will split the profit 50-50 in the future. Asphalt Green expects to start turning a profit in its fourth year.
The economic downturn is of concern to anyone opening a new business, but Tweedy said that she is optimistic because the Upper East Side center is still doing well. Tweedy expects to draw local residents and workers to become members of the gym and athletes from farther afield to participate in special training programs and events.
Even though many Battery Park City residents already have gyms in their buildings, Tweedy said she expects them to join Asphalt Green anyway because the facility will be larger and will offer classes, programs and a sense of community.
Asphalt Green is already planning some free programs for local children, including learn-to-swim classes during school hours. The warm-water pool with a movable floor will help Asphalt Green provide programs to very young children, people with disabilities and seniors, Tweedy said.
Asphalt Green is already working Downtown, assisting with recess at P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School, which are located in Tweed Courthouse this year. Asphalt Green staff members help make sure all the kindergarteners are getting a workout during recess, Tweedy said.
The newly signed contract makes it clear that all public references to the new center must give the full name as “Asphalt Green Battery Park City.” Asked if a nickname might be in order, Tweedy laughed.
“I hadn’t thought about it,” she said. “I think people will just say Asphalt Green.”