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New Sutton Gymnastics vaults back into action

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By Lincoln Anderson

After a year’s hiatus, Sutton Gymnastics is reopening at a new Chelsea location, 636 Sixth Ave. at W. 19th St., on the block just north of Bed, Bath & Beyond. The new space is close to 10,000 sq. ft., with 14-ft.-high ceilings, cast-iron columns and windows on the south and west sides.

“It was called the Photographers’ Building. It had a lot of photography studios in it,” said Joanne Sotres, Sutton Gymnastics vice president.

Sutton will officially open Sept. 22.

After 10 years in a larger, 17,000-sq.-ft. space on Cooper Sq., Sutton Gymnastics, which specializes in children’s gymnastics, was forced to close on Sept. 1, 2002. The landlord had tripled their rent and they could no longer afford the space. Knowing they would be unable to stay, they had started a search process earlier and ultimately checked out over 80 different spaces around the city before settling on W. 19th St.

“Over three years we looked,” Sotres said. “We even looked in Williamsburg.”

In each case, either the rent was too expensive or the space wasn’t right.

Another consideration was that they had to find a location that was both safe and relatively near transportation.

“There were places on the West Side but were a bit deserted for kids and nannies at night,” Sotres noted. “[Former Councilmember] Kathryn Freed was talking about Pier 40. But that’ll be years” before the pier is developed, she added.

Sutton Gymnastics was founded 27 years ago by Sotres, a former professional horseback rider; Bill Hladik, a former gymnast and Sotres’ partner; and Marian Aronson, a former attorney. They started out in a loft building on Sutton Pl. and 54th St.

Sutton’s new facility will serve 800 children, starting at 15 months of age, though some adults also participate.

“We have a couple of 70-year-olds, but they’re kids at heart,” Sotres joked.

Sotres said the benefits of getting children involved in sports like gymnastics can extend over a lifetime.

“Every day you hear and see the problem with obesity and childhood diabetes,” she said. “It’s been proven that if kids start being active early, they stay active. It becomes a life pattern, a very healthy life pattern.”

Their new space boasts equipment for all Olympic gymnastic events. Newly added are circus/aerial classes and a climbing wall.

Formerly, Sutton offered scholarships funded jointly by Sutton and the city’s Housing Authority and Department of Youth Services. But with city budget cuts and Sutton’s expenses in rebuilding their gym at the new location, this scholarship program couldn’t be continued.

However, Sutton does have a new program made possible by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Supported by Mercedes Benz, Daimler-Chrysler, Richemont and Cartier, the grant is for economically disadvantaged youth living in Lower Manhattan who were severely affected by 9/11. It provides 65 youngsters with gymnastic classes, as well as counseling, if needed, through outside counselors who are brought in. When this scholarship program opened in February 2002, it was enthusiastically received, Sotres said. However, she added, some well-to-do parents with children in Sutton’s programs tried for the scholarships, even though the families must be economically disadvantaged to qualify.

Sutton is popular with Downtown families, a trend that continues at the new location.

“We’re getting a tremendous amount from the Village,” said Sotres. A full semester, which includes one class a week, costs $500. The maximum ratio of children to instructors is eight to one.

The prolonged search to find a new space was draining and a tough lesson in the realities of the increasingly unaffordable New York real estate market. As Sotres said, “We were worn out and disappointed and heart-broken.” But now Sutton has rebounded, like a young tumbler on the practice floor.

As Sotres said, “After being down for a year, we’re back!”

For information and to register, call 212-533-9390 or visit www.suttongymnastics.com.