Read it and groan, Park Slope: The opening of the lavishly restored armory on Eighth Avenue as a recreation center will take just a little bit longer.
But the good news is that the Department of Homeless Services has finally announced that it had come to terms with the Prospect Park YMCA to operate the former armory for its members and area schoolkids.
But there’s a catch: The announcement begins a public review process that will likely push back the opening date to May, said Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6.
“But the end is near,” Hammerman said. “I’m so relieved.”
Despite Hammerman’s optimism, Park Slopers can be forgiven for thinking that they’ve heard it all before.
The $16-million armory restoration was completed in 2007, and city officials had substantial trouble finding an operator to turn the 114-year-old building, which spans nearly an entire block between 14th and 15th streets and Seventh and Eighth avenues, into an adult fitness center and sports facility that will host teen and after-school activities, a day camp, and community meetings.
The YMCA was designated in March, 2008, but the deal still wasn’t completed by December. Stakeholders have blamed the delays on the Department of Homeless Services, which will maintain a 70-bed women’s shelter in the building. The agency did push back the bidding process at least twice, The Brooklyn Paper reported.
After the Y was designated as the winning bidder, negotiations were slow going. The Y has said it will cost $500,000 a year to operate the facility — but the city contract greatly limits the non-profit’s ability to generate revenue.
“The devil in these negotiations has been the details,” said one insider who requested anonymity. “The contract sets aside a lot of the day for the Department of Education to use the armory as a gym. It gets down to tiny details, like what soda machines the Y can put in there and who will pay for the lightbulbs. Stuff like that.”
But Hammerman said that the city’s announcement of a March 9 hearing on the contract means that all the details have been worked out and are ready for a public vetting.
The outlines of that contract, obtained by The Brooklyn Paper, show that the Y would run the building for 10 years and pay rent of $20,000 a year or 20 percent of the facility’s net revenue, whichever is greater. The non-profit is expected to generate revenue through donations, sponsorships, events and membership fees, but has been concerned that there will not be enough money to cover all its expenses.
“In this current economic climate, any [operator] would be concerned about the risks,” said Tony Kleckner, chair of the armory committee of the Park Slope Civic Council. “It is breathtaking how long this has taken, but it’s because many of the players didn’t realize how daunting it would be for a concessionaire. Whoever runs it must make some money so they’re not caught losing money.”
Prospect Park YMCA Executive Director Sean Andrews said the agreement took so long because “there are a lot of moving parts.”
“It’s a large, complex facility,” he said. “We want to run it in a way that serves the community, yet is economically feasible. It’s been a long process and I understand the frustation, but we will soon be in there running the program.”
A Homeless Services spokeswoman essentially agreed: “Finding a compromise on every detail — whether large or minute — takes time,” said Kristy Buller. “This particular case was complex [but] we are confident that this facility will prove itself worth the wait.”
The city hearing will be on Monday, March 9 at 2:30 pm at the Department of City Planning office [22 Reade St. at Elk Street in Manhattan, (212) 788-7490].