Asphalt Green appears close to B.P.C. deal

By Julie Shapiro

The Battery Park City Authority is zeroing in on Asphalt Green to run the new B.P.C. community center, two people with knowledge of the discussions told Downtown Express.

The community taskforce that reviewed proposals for the center preferred Asphalt Green over the YMCA, the other contender. The authority agreed and started exclusive financial negotiations with Asphalt Green, a fitness center on the Upper East Side, hoping to strike a deal, the sources said. Those discussions may have hit a snag, but the sources said the authority still wants to pick Asphalt Green.

Jim Cavanaugh, president of the B.P.C.A., confirmed that the authority was negotiating with one of the potential operators, but he would not say which one.

“We are in the final stages of determining the operator,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re very close.”

If the authority cannot reach an agreement with the operator they are currently negotiating with, then the authority will go to the other one, Cavanaugh said. He expects to have a decision within two months.

The 50,000-square-foot community center will go in the base of the residential towers Milstein Properties is building at Sites 23 and 24, adjacent to the ballfields.

The community preferred Asphalt Green’s proposal for the center because it was more tailored to the neighborhood, while the YMCA’s presentation was more cookie-cutter.

But Asphalt Green will take longer to turn a profit than the YMCA and will lose about $3 million in its first few years, compared to the $2 million the YMCA expects to lose, according to proposal documents obtained by Downtown Express earlier this year. Asphalt Green also planned to charge higher membership fees than the YMCA.

Representatives for Asphalt Green and the YMCA did not comment.

B.P.C.A. board members discussed the center at length at their meeting last Friday, but they focused on build-out costs: In the past four years, the design contract spiked from $2.3 million to $4.2 million. The increased cost reflects added amenities, including a children’s pool in addition to the adult one, a teaching kitchen and a theater, Cavanaugh said.

“It seems like one hell of a lot of money to me,” said David Cornstein, a board member. “You’ve just got to look out the window and see where the world is. I don’t want to see another dime go to this architect.”

Stephanie Gelb, vice president of planning and design, told Cornstein that HanrahanMeyers architects, the firm designing the center, has the lowest hourly rate of any architectural firm the authority uses. Cavanaugh added that the authority is trying to keep the costs down while also adding the features the community has requested.

“It’s time for us to say no to the community if they ask for anything else,” said James Gill, chairperson of the authority board.

“And to the architect,” added Cornstein. “He’s made enough.”

The community center will eventually generate money for the authority, Cavanaugh said. Asphalt Green originally proposed to give the authority 40 percent of its revenue, while the YMCA proposed a 50-50 split, according to the financial documents obtained by the Express.

The total cost of the center is over $50 million, with Milstein paying about half that to build out the core and shell of the space.

Cornstein asked what the original projected cost of the center was, and Alexandra Altman, executive vice president, replied, “You don’t want to know.”

Several people around the board table laughed, but Cornstein interjected, “I couldn’t be more serious about this. This is like a runaway train to me and it should be stopped. I really think it’s gone way, way too far.”

Another reason the cost has increased is that the project has slowed down, requiring the architect and other contractors to stay on longer, Cavanaugh told Downtown Express after the meeting.

The authority had expected the community center to open at the end of 2010 but it now looks like it will be several months into 2011, Cavanaugh said. Milstein has slowed construction on the center and the residential towers to renegotiate labor costs, which are dropping around the city, Cavanaugh said.

“We’re hoping there’s not a complete hiatus,” he said. “They’re telling us there won’t be.”