92nd St. Y-Trinity ‘summit’ talks end with Downtown deal

By Skye H. McFarlane

The dream of a Downtown Y will be deferred no longer. On March 1, the 92nd St. Y announced that it had finalized a lease to occupy 15,800 square feet of ground floor space at 200 Hudson St., just south of Canal St.

The deal, which had been in the works for several months, was hailed by the Y, the property owners at Trinity Real Estate and local community leaders.

The Y said that the new space will open in the fall, allowing the cultural center to expand its audience and fulfill a long-held desire to set up shop Downtown. For Trinity, the addition of the Y to the Hudson Square neighborhood will help realize a goal of energizing street life and bringing together “like-minded, creative tenants.” As for neighborhood residents, the local community board has passed four years worth of resolutions supporting a Y within its borders.

“That’s terrific, terrific news,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, the vice-chairperson of Community Board 1, after hearing that the lease had been signed. “It’ll be a huge plus for the people who live and work in the neighborhood. And for the people who only work in the neighborhood, hopefully it will encourage them to stay a little longer.”

Hughes had learned about the potential deal for 200 Hudson St. when she contacted the Y in November to check up on the center’s latest plans. However, the community has seen a number of potential developments in the neighborhood fizzle out. The Y has been among them, suffering a series of false starts during several years of searching for a Downtown locale.

Founded in 1874 as a Young Men’s Hebrew Association, the 92nd St. Y has evolved into a wide-ranging cultural center, offering musical performances, educational workshops and special events out of its main space at 92nd St. and Lexington Ave and its west side space on 67th St. next to Lincoln Center. Though the Y still holds a close connection to its Jewish roots, its programs are open to people of all faiths.

In an effort to help rebuild Downtown and to bring the Y’s programs to an even broader audience — an effort that now includes Sirius radio broadcasts and online audio-casts — the center began contemplating a move to Lower Manhattan in the wake of 9/11.

In 2003, the Y received the first of many votes of confidence from C.B. 1. The board voted, following a tense debate, to support the 92nd St. Y over the Y.M.C.A. The board backed the Y again when it applied for a spot in the cultural building that was slated for the World Trade Center site. The Y was a finalist for one of the spaces, but the cultural building was later pulled from the plans. The board also passed a resolution that supported using part of the Fulton Transit Hub to house the Y, but the hub never included cultural space in its design.

Then, two years ago, the Y began searching in earnest for a space to relocate its 67th St. operations. In September of 2006, the Y sold the Uptown facility to the City University of New York. Though the center looked at buildings all around city, the search came to an end when the Y connected with Trinity.

“We never stopped being interested in a Downtown location. Our heart has always had a place Downtown,” said Eleanor Goldhar, the Y’s director of external affairs. “When this place [200 Hudson St.] was shown to us by the real estate people, it just had a resonance to us.”

In addition to the location, Goldhar said that the Y was attracted by Hudson Square’s growing crop of cultural tenants. In January 2006, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation signed a lease for 345 Hudson St. Last November, the public radio station WNYC signed on for a ground floor space at 160 Varick St. and just a few days before the 92nd St. Y signed its lease, Trinity finalized a deal to house the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Museum in the first two floors of 75 Varick St. CBS Radio and Viacom have also pursued office space from Trinity.

“We always want to be where people are motivated by a mission,” Goldhar said.

As the largest landowner in the area, Trinity has some power to shape the character of the neighborhood. Trinity Real Estate President Carl Weisbrod said that Trinity has focused on filling its ground-floor spaces with cultural tenants that he hopes will enliven the street life in the former manufacturing district and turn it into more of a 24-hour neighborhood. Weisbrod added that Trinity’s status as a non-profit has helped it “understand the needs of non-profit tenants” while negotiating leases (Weisbrod declined to discuss the specifics of the Y’s lease).

“We believe that the Hudson Square area is an area that we want to make as attractive as possible for creative organizations, both profit and non-profit,” Weisbrod said. “Clearly these organizations [the recent lessees] are ones that enhance the street activity and create a buzz for the neighborhood.”

At 200 Hudson St., the Y will build out the space to suit its needs, using green construction techniques. The project will seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The Y plans to build two performance spaces, a café, a large screening room, a lecture hall, an art gallery and several classrooms. The main performance space, like the current one Uptown, hopes to offer a full bar for adult audiences.

When the Y moves into 200 Hudson St. this year, it will offer the Makor and Daytime programs, both of which currently operate out of the 67th St. space. Makor, targeted toward young adults in their 20s and 30s, offers music, film screenings and a variety of evening classes. Daytime offers midday workshops, lectures and leisure activities, aimed especially at newly retired baby boomers. Once the two programs are established Downtown, Goldhar said, the Y will work with the community to develop new offerings.

Hughes said that the Y would be a welcome complement to what is being built elsewhere in the neighborhood. The other two community centers planned Downtown — on Warren St. and North End Ave. — will have a great deal of youth and fitness programming.

“There is no community center for the baby boomer population. That’s very needed Downtown. And [the Y’s] programming is also very diverse, which is good,” Hughes said.

With a 10-year lease term, it appears that the Y’s stay Downtown will last even longer than its quest to get here.

“This is a lovely fulfillment of what we set out to do a number of years ago,” said Goldhar. “This is a wonderful opportunity for the Y.”