Local Business Update: Manhattan Youth and Downtown Community Center

Like all of us, Bob Townley is in a holding pattern. Unlike all of us, he is also trying to keep 900 employees paid and keep the neighborhood’s non-profit community center — Manhattan Youth at 120 Warren — afloat. It is not easy now, and if things don’t change dramatically before September, it is going to get a lot harder, if not impossible.

So far he has kept his staff engaged, and not just with running bleak financial models (the organization has an $18 million budget and runs 32 free after-school programs at schools across the city, not to mention the childcare, afterschool, camps and aquatics programs they have at the center itself, available regardless of income to kids, teens and seniors). They are running their after-school and early childhood classes online, and so far, he has been able to keep his staff paid. They are working harder than before to try to replicate programs for their clients, while making sure the community center is there and operational when we all come back.

But that has taken some crafty managing of loans (read: debt) and a depleting of the organization’s cash reserves, especially since the federal paycheck protection program is for companies with less than 500 employees. Manhattan Youth, it turns out, is too big to succeed.

“Money is a funny thing: when we are out of it we will be out of it,” Bob said. “But until then, we are very very busy. My staff is working harder than they ever have. And these people were with me in good times and I will be with them in bad.”

Bob says he is optimistic, and he’s not writing anything off. He’s staying flexible, he says, while also trying to be realistic. But a few big questions are looming: Will people ever come back to say, swimming lessons in a public pool? Will kids be back in school in September? The city is bound to have budget cuts, which will definitely filter down to agencies like his that are awarded city contracts. What will that budget look like? Or is that done for the foreseeable future?

And let’s say we do “come back.” What does that look like? Manhattan Youth programs typically have 14 kids in a classroom. Will they have to run classes with five kids each for social distancing measures? And does the fee for that class then have to triple? “Who would ever pay for that?” Bob notes. No organization can really even do a budget right now, but Bob has his staff keep trying, testing out a hundred scenarios.

By July, the organization will be down a million dollars from lost revenue that the center would have collected during these spring months in membership and program fees. Few of its other expenses have gone away, and not just staff salaries: insurance fees for both staff and the building, heat, etc. Come June, registration usually starts for September, so staff has to prepare for that. The alternative is bleak.

“If schools don’t open in September, I am very confident that we are in big trouble,” said Bob, who founded Manhattan Youth in 1986 and opened the community center building in 2008. “My staff have families to support — they have been with me years and years. If school doesn’t open, we will all go down together.”

“And I am going to open up a bar.”



  1. I am really hoping MY can survive (along with Church Street School of Music). These places are so important for our community and really play a big role in our children’s lives.

  2. Crazy that Ruth chris steakhouse can get money but such an integral place like MY can’t.

  3. Does Tribeca battery park city and Fidi have a downtown organization that can advocate for our small businesses and community centers? We should start fund raising and supporting each other.
    How can we start one? Do we go to city hall or the community board meetings and rally for financial assistances for our community’s business

    • Downtown Alliance is the BID for everything south of Murray. Hudson Square BID is north of Canal. You can see their boundaries in the links. A few local restaurants have joined a relief advocacy organization called ROAR. Any solutions from government will be citywide, not just for downtown or Tribeca.

      • Wow, So who does Reade up to Canal. From West Side Highway to Broadway?

        • There is not a business organization that I know of, but someone reading here might know better. FYI, BIDs tax property owners to help improve a community that needs financial assistance in some way for either marketing or safety or street maintenance services, like garbage pickup.