Summer is coming. And for the New Yorkers who live in buildings with gyms, roof decks, pools and playrooms, reopening these spaces could mean the difference between a grueling summer and a bearable one.
In some buildings, it’s already happening.
Last week, a financial district condo reopened one of its roof decks, making the space available in hourlong shifts with no more than six people outside at a time wearing masks and gloves. At a rental building in New Jersey, tenants with gardening plots can start planting their victory gardens now. And a large Riverdale co-op is working out a plan to open its pool this summer.
While state-mandated social distancing measures are still in place, a new future is taking shape in luxury buildings, one where tenants may regain access to some coveted amenities. A handful of outdoor spaces, like a roof deck, could open now if social distancing could be enforced. As for the rest, management companies are drawing up guidelines, laying the groundwork for a different kind of normal that could unfold once stay-at-home orders are relaxed or lifted. The roof deck may open, but without any seating or barbecues. Residents may be assigned specific days to use the pool, and have to stand or sit in spots marked out on the deck at safe distances. Gyms may be reconfigured to increase the space between workout equipment and stagger workout times.
“Clearly people want to get out and they want fresh air, but we’re concerned about social distancing,” said Michael Wolfe, the president of Midboro Management, which manages condos, co-ops and rentals in the city.
At Harrison Urby, a rental building in Harrison, N.J., the gym, yoga studio and tasting kitchen are closed, but tenants who signed up to use the 29 garden plots still have access. Management held a lottery for the plots in early March and received so many applications that they asked tenants to share. Once the governor enacted stay-at-home and social distancing orders in mid-March, “we did a lot of research to find out: can we open the garden?” said the Urby brand director, Jo Rausch.
The answer was yes, with modifications. Tenants with shared plots need to coordinate with each other to garden at separate times. And the annual kickoff orientation event with a gardener was replaced with a video demonstration.
Kelly Ghahramani, 28, a sales representative who lives in a studio apartment in the building with her husband, plans to garden everyday this spring and summer. She’s already growing new celery stalks from food scraps, and stocking up on lavender, tomatoes, eggplant, parsley and rosemary starter plants. “I feel extremely fortunate that I have the opportunity to be outside and plant things,” she said. “It’s peaceful and calming and relaxing and takes your mind off things.”
Of all the amenities, gyms are the ones tenants seem to miss the most. In some condos and co-ops, residents have asked to take weights and other equipment up to their apartments. Mr. Wolfe received one request to borrow a Peloton bike (the answer was no).
“I used the gym every day. I had a meltdown when it was closing,” said Ann Wehren, 37, who lives in a luxury rental in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, and was recently laid off from her job as a buying director for a luxury retail store.
Ms. Wehren asked unsuccessfully for a rent reduction to compensate for the days the amenities have been closed. Other New Yorkers have been asking for discounts or credits too. In some cases, residents pay a separate amenity fee, but often the cost is wrapped into the rent or maintenance charges. While a few developers, like RXR Realty, are waiving amenity fees, most buildings are not.
“Right now we’re not thinking about it, because our priority is to find a way to reopen them as soon as we can,” said Dan Wurtzel, the president of FirstService Residential New York, which manages rentals, condos and co-ops in the city.
Even a tenant like Ms. Wehren, who has a rent-stabilized lease, could have a hard time proving a claim for a rent abatement since amenities are generally not required services for individual apartments, according to John T. Maher, a lawyer who represents tenants.
The gym may be the most beloved amenity, but it will also likely be the hardest to reopen. Equipment is close together, and by nature, gyms are sweaty spaces. “Some of the weight equipment may be six feet apart, certainly the cardio equipment isn’t and what do you do with that?” said John R. Janangelo, an executive managing director of Douglas Elliman Property Management.
Equipment needs to be wiped down between each use. But apartment gyms are rarely staffed, so buildings would have to trust residents to properly clean the equipment. Playrooms may face a similar challenge. Aside from making sure little children practice social distancing, someone would also have to check that an indoor jungle gym was wiped down between each use.
While buildings work out the logistics, some are offering virtual alternatives. At 196 Orchard, a condo on the Lower East Side, residents get a free one-year subscription to CARAVAN Wellness, normally a $99 package, where they can take online classes on subjects like meditation, hair care and Pilates.
Alessia Roitman, 45, an interior designer who has lived in the building for four years, has been using the service five times a week because the gym is closed. “I’m thrilled that ownership introduced me to this program,” she said.
Other buildings are simply trying to keep their residents entertained. Herald Towers, a 26-story luxury rental at the corner of Broadway and 34th Street, organizes virtual happy hours. Participants receive a kit with ingredients for a signature cocktail, and then a mixologist from a city bar like The Wayland or Goodnight Sonny demonstrates how to make it on Zoom.
50 West, a condominium in the financial district, distributes a newsletter six days a week with puzzles, recipes, and arts and crafts projects (supplies for the projects are delivered to apartments). “We have a group chat of residents who solve the brain teasers,” said Whitney Fishman Zember, 35, who lives in the building with her husband, toddler and baby. “My son gets so excited when he gets a delivery of crafts or projects.”
For now, with the playroom shut, the craft kits and group chats will have to do.
Alyson Krueger contributed reporting.