C.B.1 backs Manhattan Youth running rec center

By Ronda Kaysen

A Downtown after school and summer program for children is one step closer to owning a new Tribeca community center.

Community Board 1 has requested that the city’s Economic Development Corporation give Manhattan Youth, a nonprofit youth organization, the deed title for a new community center planned for Site 5C, a residential development on Warren St. in Tribeca. The four-floor community center will be complete in September 2007.

Manhattan Youth hopes to soon launch a capital campaign to raise between $4.8 million and $5.6 million to operate the 28,000 sq. ft. center. So long as the organization does not know who holds the title to the site, it will have trouble convincing donors to part with their money, said Manhattan Youth executive director Bob Townley.

“We’re not ready to go into a capital campaign until that question is resolved,” said Townley. “I can’t, in good conscience, sign [donation] agreements when I don’t know who is going to be my daddy.” Manhattan Youth has an annual budget of $2 million and a 125-member staff.

The community center – an amenity bestowed upon the community in exchange for agreeing to build two large-scale developments in the neighborhood – has been the focus of much community attention lately. Earlier this year, Friends of Community Board 1, a nonprofit arm of C.B. 1 run by the board’s former chairperson Madelyn Wils, suggested taking control of the deed title. (The nonprofit has since changed its name to Friends of Lower Manhattan and has distanced itself from C.B. 1.)

Townley winces at the idea of either a government entity – C.B. 1 – or a nonprofit not trained to work with children – Friends – holding the title for the center. But he said the agreement is a palatable compromise. It calls for Manhattan Youth to restructure its board of directors to include members of C.B. 1 appointed by the C.B. 1 chairperson. It also states that if Manhattan Youth were unable to control the community center for whatever reason, it would revert back to the city. Townley, a C.B. 1 member, recused himself from the vote.

“This approach ensures that the community board will have a significant role in the programming of the center and ensures that Manhattan Youth will operate the center according to delineated operating standards,” C.B. 1 chairperson Julie Menin wrote in an e-mail to Downtown Express.

The center will include a swimming pool, a theater and concert hall, dance and art studio space, a multi-use media center, a science lab, a library and reading room, a kitchen and other facilities, including space for other Downtown organizations like Little League.

The agreement is a far cry from complete, however. The E.D.C. still needs to approve it and make its own suggestions before the title is handed over to anyone. Townley, however, is jumping at the bit for the chance to have a permanent home for his 20-year-old organization. “Give me the keys,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”


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