Volume 17 • Issue 27 | Dec. 03 - Dec. 09, 2004

Beginning to plan Houston Street’s community center

Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Bodrow
Melissa Aase of University Settlement in front of Avalon Chrystie Place

By Lincoln Anderson

When Mayor Bloomberg led the topping-off ceremony for Avalon Chrystie Place at E.Houston St. and the Bowery last month, the Whole Foods market planned for the new building seemed to get an inordinate amount of attention. However, while the project’s community-led planning process did identify a new supermarket as a priority, even more important to many in the neighborhood will be the building’s new community center.

The YMCA and University Settlement will each have 50 percent ownership of the 40,000-sq.-ft. community center, which will be open seven days a week, 6 a.m. to midnight. The Y will manage the facility, operating its athletic facilities — gym, pool and cardio/fitness center — and computer center. The settlement house will program and operate use of the center’s community rooms and meeting rooms.

Although the community center isn’t slated to open until late next year, Melissa Aase, University Settlement director of community development, is already busy trying to schedule and program use of its spaces by community organizations and groups.

The spaces University Settlement will oversee include four classrooms, 590 sq. ft. each; three seminar rooms, one 335 sq. ft. and two 245 sq. ft.; one 1,090-sq.-ft. multipurpose room (with dance floor); and three furnished community offices, ranging from a three-person to five-person office, with the option to rent an individual desk. Some of the rooms can be combined to form larger spaces.

Development pressure is making it harder for nonprofit organizations to remain in the area, a problem the community center hopes to address by providing space at slightly below market-rate rent.

Estimated rents are: classrooms, $35 per hour; seminar rooms, $25 per hour; multipurpose room, $40 per hour; individual desk, $300 per month; three-person office, $900 per month; five-person office, $1,100 per month.

Aase has already met or spoken with 20 local groups and hopes to meet everyone possibly interested by the spring.

“I’m talking to everybody,” she said. “I talked to one alternative high school that hasn’t been able to find a space for a prom. They’d like to use the basketball court for that. I spoke to one person who has been running a nonprofit from her kitchen table. She’s ready to expand.”

As University Settlement and Aase see it, the community center will be “kind of a hub,” she said. “Hopefully, there will be a lot of rubbing shoulders, both youth and adult programs, for health and wellness, cultural…. And a feeling that ownership [of the space] will be shared with the neighborhood.”

One room will hold almost 60 people, and Aase said this would be about the right size for a Community Board 3 committee meeting, though probably a bit small for a full board meeting.

“We’d definitely like the community board to have a presence,” she said.

Applicants will be judged on how closely they meet guidelines set by the Cooper Sq. Task Force: to increase programs and opportunities for local youth, and increase accessible recreational and meeting space for community residents of all ages and all income levels.

University Settlement is seeking groups from the surrounding area that will not charge fees for programs or will offer extremely low, sliding-scale fees.

Sliding-scale fees and barter relationships are also possible means of payment by the nonprofit groups. Groups that expect to make a substantial amount from activities they run in the center may be asked to pay higher rent, which will be used by the Y and University Settlement to provide expanded free services for the community.

Although it’s a challenge, Aase is confident University Settlement will be able to thoroughly program uses for the community center’s rooms and offices.

“Based on the response I’m getting so, I’m not worried,” she said. “I just want to get the word out across the neighborhood.”

To reach, Aase about information on or applying for meeting, classroom and office space in the community center, e-mail maase@universitysettlement.org or phone 212-674-9120 ext. 4589.


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