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June 13, 2013- By Steven E. Greer, MD
Finally, seven years after the Battery Park City Authority approved the creation of the Asphalt Green community center, it will open this weekend and be nearly 18-months behind schedule. Undoubtedly, on June 15th at the opening, numerous politicians and bureaucrats will flock to the ribbon-cutting ceremony and have their faces captured in the photo-op.
Who truly deserves credit for Asphalt Green opening? Who actively prevented Asphalt Green from opening more than a year ago?
The former BPCA administration, led by Chairman James Gill and President/CEO James Cavanaugh, chose Asphalt Green to manage the community center in October of 2009 after an RFP process. YMCA was the only other applicant. Of note, the Manhattan Youth community center nearby in Tribeca was not yet in existence.
Construction had begun a year earlier, prior to Asphalt Green being selected. The scheduled opening data was November of 2011 at the groundbreaking in 2008.
Prior to the Gill/Cavanaugh administration, an agreement was already in place between the BPCA and Milstein properties to build a residential apartment building with the community center inside. The BPCA owns the facility as part of the agreements to allow Milstein to build the apartments portion of the buildings (In fact, all properties within Battery Park City are actually “owned” by the BPCA and leased to the developers).
In October of 2010, a new BPCA administration took over, led by Chairman Bill Thompson and President/CEO Gayle Horwitz. Mr. Thompson was also planning his 2013 mayoral campaign while serving as chairman. Ms. Horwitz had worked for him when he was Comptroller of the city, as Deputy Comptroller.
The new BPCA administration promptly fired 19 veteran BPCA rank and file staffers, then replaced many of them with former Bill Thompson campaign staffers. For examples, the former media relations and community liaison, Leticia Remauro, was ousted and replaced by Anne Fenton and Matthew Monahan. Ms. Fenton assisted Mr. Thompson in his 2009 run for mayor.
When the Thompson/Horwitz administration took over, the Asphalt Green complex construction was nearly completed and the opening date of late 2011 was on schedule. Then, mysterious problems began to arise resulting in delays.
To address the delays on the opening of Asphalt Green, CEO Horwitz hosted “Town Halls” to explain to the community how a myriad of city permitting agencies (e.g. DOB, FDNY, etc) were holding up the certificate of occupancy. BatteryPark.TV investigated and interviewed some of the former BPCA staffers who used to handle matters such as city permits for the BPCA. This was when BatteryPark.TV first learned that the BPCA was actually making excuses for the delays, while secretly trying to renegotiate the contract between the BPCA and Asphalt Green. The contract inked by James Cavanaugh’s BPCA was thought to be too generous to Asphalt Green by Horwitz’s administration (and also too threatening to Manhattan Youth nearby).
On May 10, 2012, Chairman Thompson abruptly resigned his post with no explanation. Governor Cuomo then appointed Dennis Mehiel on July 31st to run the BPCA as the new Chairman. Gayle Horwitz remained on as the CEO and President.
More town halls were organized by Horwitz, and more excuses explaining how the city was the cause for the delays were given. On September 4, 2012, the BPCA’s duo of Mathew Monahan and Anne Fenton stood before the Battery Park City subcommittee of the Community Board (CB1) and explained that the New York City Fire Department was now to blame for holding up the opening of Asphalt Green.
On September 11, 2012, BatteryPark.TV exclusively reported the bombshell that the BPCA was indeed lying to the public all along about the reasons for the delays. The BPCA had retained a high-power law firm to renegotiate the BPCA contract. The next day, Gayle Horwitz resigned her post as CEO of the BPCA. However, Anne Fenton and Mathew Monahan remained. Ms. Fenton actually received a promotion to “Executive Vice President, Operations” with a 45% increase in pay to $145,000.
Meanwhile, no elected or appointed official came forward to say “enough is enough” and attempt to help the opening of Asphalt Green. In fact, some were actively conspiring to assist the BPCA stall the opening of Asphalt Green. Asphalt Green was radio silent, making no attempt to publicly defend themselves either.
Members of the CB1, notably Bob Townley and lawyer Jeff Galloway, drafted a new version of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was first submitted in 2010 but never signed by the BPCA. In the MOU, they wanted to prevent Asphalt Green from competing with the nearby Manhattan Youth community center run by Bob Townley.
On October 19, 2012, Bob Townley organized a protest rally outside of the ballfields adjacent to the Asphalt Green facility. No elected officials turned out, and almost all of the “protestors” were employees or friends of Mr. Townley. Rather than blatantly protest the Asphalt Green community center, they concocted a false argument that somehow the ballfields were in jeopardy. Their claims were bogus, and in fact, the BPCA had recently awarded the Little League and Downtown Soccer programs more liberal three-year agreements to use the fields, virtually for free.
Helping Bob Townley promote his “rally” were the local throw-away papers which receive considerable advertising revenue from Manhattan Youth and the BPCA. For example, The Broadsheet, published by BPC resident Robert Simko, with senior reporter Matt Fenton (no relation to Anne Fenton), wrote articles ahead of the rally recruiting, to little avail, regular citizens. The only non-Manhattan Youth employees to turn out were elderly residents of the nearby Hallmark nursing home, who were clearly duped into attendance. More unseemly, children were used as props.
In disgust, real citizens of BPC began forming their own action committee to get Asphalt Green opened. Jamie Propp, who lives above Asphalt Green, grew tired of watching the facility stand idle, and formed an online protest movement. On October 21st, they convened their own rally. At this event, dozens of real residents showed up to demand that Asphalt Green be opened.
A few days later, on October 23rd, the BPCA board met, and the new Chairman, Dennis Mehiel, announced that the stalling was over, and that a new contract with Asphalt Green was agreed upon. The MOU requested by Jeff Galloway and Bob Townley was rejected.
Everything standing in the way of Asphalt Green seemed to have been conquered. Then, along came Hurricane Sandy, and the facility was flooded.
Taking a page from the playbook of Rahm Emanuel, “No good crisis was wasted”, Townley and Galloway, along with CB1 Chair Katherine McVay Hughes, began lobbying the BPCA to reconsider the MOU to help Manhattan Youth. They met in secret with the BPCA, whereby some form of deal was struck.
At the next full meeting of the CB1 on December 19th, the MOU was not brought up for a vote of resolution and the MOU seemed to have quietly died, once again. BatteryPark.TV requested a copy of the secretive MOU, which author Jeff Galloway never showed to the full CB1, and the official reply from the CB1 was that the MOU never existed. However, we later learned that Bob Townley did get something after all.
Through legal channels, BatteryPark.TV exclusively learned that the BPCA is now giving free grants of $250,000 per year, for at least two years, to Bob Townley’s Manhattan Youth, despite his community center not residing within Battery Park City, and now being redundant to Asphalt Green. At the April, 2013 meeting of the BPCA, Chairman Mehiel announced that such grants are under review and might be revoked.
Also, according to the new contract, Asphalt Green is not allowed to use the ballfields except for summer camp, which was one of the restrictions sought in the MOU.
These concessions by the BPCA could explain why the CB1 killed the MOU and claims no knowledge of it. It appears as if Townley, Galloway, et al got away like bandits.
Back to Asphalt Green.
What was once nearly in reach, the opening of Asphalt Green and the adjacent ballfields became an uncertainty after the flooding of Hurricane Sandy. It was unclear whether insurance would pay for the damages, or whether Milstein Properties or the BPCA would be responsible, since the handover of the facility from Milstein to the BPCA was not clear cut.
During this time in February, the BPCA made comments to local press that the ballfields might not be repaired in time for the April Little League, citing the lengthy legal RFP process for procuring contractors. BatteryPark.TV investigated, and exclusively reported that the BPCA had tremendous leeway with the RFP process during emergencies and that RFP’s could be bypassed.
After our reporting, local politicians began issuing statements demanding the fields open, and the BPCA announced a more expedited plan. The ballfields were opened in time for the Little League season. Of course, Anne Fenton of the BPCA squeezed into the photo-op on opening day.
After the ballfields were out of the way, the fate of Asphalt Green was still undetermined heading into the Spring of 2013. The summer camp programs for kids, which generate considerable revenue for the community centers, were at risk. The BPCA and Asphalt Green could not commit to an opening date because repairs to the facility were still underway. It was not until May that the June 15th opening date could be announced.
Throughout the entire series of secret renegotiations with CEO Horwitz and her BPCA, the Asphalt Green staff decided to lay low and do nothing to inform the public of the real reasons for the delays. The fed up citizens and BatteryPark.TV were the sole voice for the community center.
On June 15th, the nearly $70 Million (after flood repair costs) Battery Park City Community Center, managed by Asphalt Green, should open. The community will have state of the art facilities, and coaches that create NCAA scholarship and Olympic athletes. Non-athletic endeavors will run the gamut from cooking classes to stage theater.
But the need for proper oversight will just be beginning. Government-owned and funded community centers attract government wrongdoers like light bulbs attract moths in the summer. In fact, most of the recent state and city arrest for corruption revolved around contracts for community centers.
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