Let the games begin: Chinatown Y opens on Bowery


By Janel Bladow

The Bowery is bouncing with basketballs. With a new YMCA at the corner of East Houston St., the neighborhood once full of flophouses is now alive with all sorts of fun activities.

The court is buffed. The bikes lined up for spinning. The steel locker doors are open and ready.

Brand new treadmills face a wall of windows. Through the glass sparkles a competitive-size swimming pool filled with clean, clear water just waiting for the fun to begin.

Welcome to the Chinatown YMCA Houston Street Center, which quietly opened its doors on Wed., March 1, 2006.

Tina Kreitlow, the center’s director, said they have signed up 500 individuals and families as members.

“We’re getting a lot of area people who want the convenience of being close to home,” she said. “There are other gyms nearby but this is the closest. We’re hearing this is the best thing to happen to the neighborhood.”

That’s why East Village resident Michael Train joined. He was a member of another club for five years but this Y is just a half block from his home. “My old club didn’t have a pool. When Whole Foods opens, I’ll never leave neighborhood.”

Saundra Keinberger

The center fills three floors of the recently built Avalon Chrystie Place building at the corner of Bowery and East Houston St. The Y uses about 80 percent of the 42,000 square feet of community space in the building, which is also used by University Settlement.

The Chinatown YMCA opened without its own building 31 years ago, running after-school, community and summer programs in public schools and other sites. “Our dream has been to have a full-service facility,” Kreitlow said. “That dream is now a reality.”

The first-floor entrance leads visitors past the administration offices to 4,000-square feet of fitness space, including two workout rooms with dozens of state-of-the-art exercise machines. All the machines are equipped with cardio-theaters – 15-inch L.C.D. monitors with cable TV and music channels.

Hector Lozada, one of the first members to try out the club, was halfway through his three-mile jog on a treadmill that faces the pool. “I joined primarily for the pool and the proximity to my home,” said the Nolita resident.

Behind the workout area and pool are five locker rooms for boys, girls, men, women and special needs. Girls and boys have kid-size showers, dozens of bright blue lockers and bathroom facilities. The men and women areas have more than 200 lockers, six showers with private changing chambers and a sauna. The special needs area, which can also be used by families, has oversized changing rooms and handicap accessible facilities.

There’s even a pool viewing area where parents can watch their children swim, bring in their laptops and chat on their cell phones. “Bring your credit card, log on and do all your shopping, who needs more,” Kreitlow said laughing.

A studio for classes from aerobics to yoga, and a regulation college basketball court – 3-feet shorter than N.B.A. – fill the second floor.

There, Israel Mateo practiced his jump shots.

“That the club had full facilities and a basketball court was important to me,” said the New Jersey native who recently moved nearby. “I hope to get friends together here for some one-on-one.”

The courts can be used for basketball, volleyball and badminton. Members can come in for pick-up games. The center plans to offer youth and adult league games.

“We might even have swim teams too,” Kreitlow said.

In the studio, the center will offer 40 – 50 free group exercise classes every week. Depending on the demand, more classes could be added in the rooms upstairs.

On the third floor are four classrooms. They’ll be used for everything from arts and crafts, computer training and teen leadership and development programs.

“We’ll even rent them out as part of our party package,” Kreitlow said. Members can rent the pool or gym for two and half hours then a classroom for an hour and half to open gifts, serve food or even eat birthday cake.

Val Duval, youth and teen director, has big plans for family and teen activities. “We’ll have everything from karate to basketball. We’ll have dribble and scribble art classes for parents and young children. For three to five year olds, we’ll have tumble bug gym classes,” he says.

Daisy Cheung, who manages several buildings on Lafayette St., has waited three months for the center to open. “What I like about this Y is that it feels comfortable. Once you get north of here, you don’t see so many Asian faces. This is really good for the community.”

Because of red tape, the Y wasn’t permitted to open the pool until the afternoon, much to Kreitlow’s joy: “It was great to see the first members jump in.”

The Chinatown YMCA’s new center, 273 Bowery, is open Mon. – Fri. 6 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. Adult memberships range from $53- $68 a month with a $125 initiation fee. Families with one adult pay $73 a month. Scholarships are available for children. 212-925-1891.

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