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Armory Pool and Gym Prices Give Crown Heights Neighbors Sticker Shock

Parents and other neighbors express confusion over separate gym and pool memberships that exceed costs at other Brooklyn facilities — save for a limited number of long-promised hyperlocal discounts that may never grow beyond 250.

The exterior of the Crown Heights Armory between Union and President streets.
The exterior of the Crown Heights Armory between Union and President streets.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Following the grand opening of a gym and pool complex in a city-owned Brooklyn armory, area residents promised discounts say they are perplexed by complex pricing — and suffering sticker shock.

The Major R. Owens Health and Wellness Community Center in Crown Heights is charging for gym and pool memberships separately, with lap swim costing a pricey $124 a month, exceeding other athletic pools in the borough.

The $30-a-month standard gym membership at the former Bedford Union Armory, meanwhile, affords access to a small corridor of workout equipment, adhering to the minimum agreed to by developer BFC Partners under its lease with the city.

Standard members also get discounts to classes that include archery and yoga — or can pay $120 a month to upgrade to a “signature membership” that includes the classes, but not the pool. Meanwhile, just 250 gym membership discounts are available, so far.

The pool at the Major Owens Recreation Center in Crown Heights Union Bedford Armory, Sept. 8, 2021.
The pool at the Major Owens Recreation Center in Crown Heights Union Bedford Armory, Sept. 8, 2021.
Jason Scott Jones/THE CITY

“The pricing is incredibly confusing, and it seems very expensive for an area which is one of the poorest in Brooklyn,” said a parent from Prospect Lefferts Gardens who asked to remain anonymous. “What is going on here? It’s incomprehensible.”

The parent is among several in a private local Facebook group who recently expressed frustration. Other comments included “pricey!” and “How are people in Crown Heights supposed to afford it?”

Meanwhile, some area residents said they were disappointed with the gym, consisting of a cluster of workout equipment in a narrow, windowless room.

“It’s basically a Fairfield Inn-esque hotel fitness area or the kind landlords put into the basement of an apartment building so they can list it as having a fitness area, market it as a ‘luxury’ building, and jack up the rent,” said one neighbor, who decided not to sign up.

Cheaper Competition

The center opened its doors to the public on Oct. 27, with Mayor Bill de Blasio and others delivering remarks.

Under its soaring roof, the 60,000-square-foot center includes a gym, pool, basketball courts, multi-purpose field and office space for nonprofits, with programming at each run by a different operator.

Councilmember Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) touted community resident discounts in her 2017 deal with developer Don Capoccia to green light the new development, which also includes hundreds of units of affordable and market rate housing slated to open next year. Cumbo in recent weeks has strongly defended the deal.

Capoccia’s 99-year lease with the city Economic Development Corporation sets aside half of gym memberships at $10 a month “for the local community and/or families in need of financial assistance.”

The discounts go to people living in Community District 9, bounded by Eastern Parkway and Clarkson Avenue, with incomes below twice the federal poverty line — or about $44,000 for a family of three. About 45,000 people in the community district could qualify based on income.

The lease requires at least 250 discount memberships, for which BFC will get reimbursed via rent reductions to EDC. Before opening the facility, BFC announced that a 500-member cap would remain in place for the armory’s first year.

The number of discount memberships could rise in the future — but only if more than 250 people spring for the full-priced gym sign-ups for $30 or $120 a month.

Don Cappocia of BFC Partners speaks at the grand opening of the Major Owens Center, as Joe Coello, chair of the center’s advisory committee, stands by on Oct. 27, 2021.
Don Cappocia of BFC Partners speaks at the Oct. 27 grand opening of the Major Owens Center, as Joe Coello, chair of the center’s community advisory committee, and Councilmember Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) watch.
Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

BFC Partners did not disclose how many full-priced gym memberships it has sold so far.

Area residents raised eyebrows at the Major Owens fitness center offerings, at prices they said exceeded those at local gyms.

“That’s definitely not affordable. I can tell you that, especially in today’s climate,” said Jeannette Espinoza, who recently joined the Planet Fitness on Flatbush Avenue near Empire Boulevard after moving to Crown Heights from Queens.

She was looking for a spacious, COVID-safe place to work out. The chain gym outpost did the trick, with memberships starting at $10 a month.

“If this had been small and enclosed, I would not have joined,” said Espinoza.

Sunk Costs

The much-anticipated pool is now open, run by Imagine Swimming — with higher prices and hours more limited than those at other Brooklyn athletic clubs.

As an alternative to the $124 monthly membership, a single lap swim session costs $25 an adult, while family swim time is $20 per adult and $5 for children, or free for families participating in swim classes, according to a posted price list.

Lap swim hours currently span between two and three-and-a-half hours each weekday, split between morning and evening. On weekends, lap swimmers are limited to a half hour on Saturday and Sunday mornings, between 7:30 and 8 a.m. Family swim with kids is between 4 and 6 p.m. on weekends only.

Imagine Swimming said in a statement: “Our pool has already become a great offering for the people of Crown Heights, and we are excited to continue to grow as we further establish ourselves as an invaluable resource in the community.

“We’ve only been operational for one month and have already seen great interest in our classes, open swims and other services. We plan to grow and adapt our services to meet the demands of the community as we see them,” it continued.

As previously reported by THE CITY, kids’ classes cost $50 a half hour, the same as at Imagine’s Tribeca outpost in Manhattan.

As part of the city lease deal, Imagine Swimming is offering discounts for people earning less than twice the federal poverty level, taking a rent deduction in exchange.

Discount offerings include $24.80-a-month lap memberships according to the price list, as well as $5 drop-in swims ($1 for kids). Imagine has pledged 9,000 swim classes at $10 each for children residing in CB9 — adding up to nearly all of the $375,000 annual community benefits it has promised.

Mayor Bill de Blasio gives remarks at the grand opening of the Major R. Owens Health and Wellness Community Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Wednesday, October 27, 2021.
Mayor Bill de Blasio gives remarks at the grand opening of the Major R. Owens Health and Wellness Community Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Oct. 27.
Mayoral Photography Office/ Michael Appleton

The swim school last week held its third annual learn-to-swim clinic with children from the nearby Ebbets Field Apartments, featuring Olympian Anthony Ervin, it announced on social media.

Pricey Pool

Prices are higher and hours more limited than at other Brooklyn athletic pools, a review by THE CITY found.

MatchPoint NYC is offering memberships to its Gravesend pool for $75 a month, including towel service and sauna, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Or members can join both the gym and pool for $121 per month — a combination that costs $154 at Major Owens.

Brooklyn Sports Clubs in Starrett City charges $59 a month and Kings Bay Y in Sheepshead Bay $26 a month for members who commit for a year, according to the facilities. The Dodge YMCA in downtown Brooklyn charges $78 month to month. Except Saturdays, all offer members at least five hours of pool access.

Robert Saffer, 67, lives in Crown Heights and is a member at Dodge YMCA, where he said he occasionally uses the pool.

Crown Heights resident Robert Saffer uses the Dodge Y in downtown Brooklyn.
Robert Saffer lives in Crown Heights but says he won’t join the new sports facility there, preferring the YMCA in downtown Brooklyn.
Farah Javed/THE CITY

“It’s really disgraceful that a valuable public resource is being in effect reserved for wealthy people. It shouldn’t be used that way,” he told THE CITY.

Asked whether he would join the Major Owens center, which is closer to home, Saffer replied: “No way.”


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