The newly opened luxury Spa Castle in Manhattan was shut down by the city Health Department Tuesday after investigators found it non-compliant with certain safety regulations, NBC 4 New York has learned.
Patrons were being told by the operator to leave the hot tubs under the Health Department's orders Tuesday evening, the health department said.
The 39,000-square feet Spa Castle Premier 57 opened in midtown last month. The Health Department said the venue lacked a permit and an approved safety plan, both of which are required for all bathing establishments in New York City.
Spa Castle CEO Steve Chon said the closure was temporary.
"Premier 57 is currently reconciling a permitting issue and the spa is temporarily closed," Chon said. "We will advise on a reopening date as it becomes available."
The Health Department confirmed Spa Castle was in the process of applying for the necessary permit, and that Premier 57's pools, hot tubs, saunas or steam rooms would stay closed until one was granted.
The closure of the Manhattan facility comes after inquiries by NBC 4 New York's I-Team about dozens of violations at indoor spas and pools in the city over the last two years, including for problems like moldy saunas, inadequate staff supervision and poor water quality, and, as one video shown to the I-Team suggested, at least one bug problem.
The I-Team began investigating after a visitor to Spa Castle, a luxury, multi-floor spa in Queens that opened its Manhattan location recently, dipped into one of its rooftop hot tubs and found a man's body submerged there.
The 84-year-old man, identified as Hock Ma, was pronounced dead a short time after he was discovered and the medical examiner says he died of a heart attack. But visitors like the woman who found him -- and her friend -- were concerned it was a patron, not a staff member, who found him.
The day after the man died last month, the I-Team reported Spa Castle had received more than 40 violations from the city's Health Department over the past two years, including 28 critical violations -- poor supervision and insufficient life-saving equipment among them.
A former Spa Castle employee contacted the I-Team to report that when she worked there, she had some of the same concerns as the woman who discovered the man's submerged body.
"I know at nighttime there's no one watching the pools,” said the woman, who was let go by Spa Castle and asked the I-Team to protect her identity. “There's not really that much security staff. There are multiple cameras but they are not really being watched."
The woman wanted her identity concealed because she said she wants to get another job in the same industry and fears speaking about her previous employer would stymie her ability to do so.
The former employee showed the I-Team photos she says she took at the spa, including ones that depict collapsed ceilings and mold on the walls. She also showed a video of a cockroach crawling along the floor in what appears to be the spa's juice bar.
"There's mold in the saunas, the Jacuzzis are malfunctioning, there are rodents, insects, pests," the former employee said.
Spa Castle said it could not confirm the authenticity of the photos except for one that showed the fitness room, which was under renovation at the time the photo was taken and blocked off from visitors.
In a statement, Chon said the spa's restaurants have A ratings from the Health Department and "the facility is currently undergoing renovations inside and out."
"When our facility receives citations or we experience customer issues, they are immediately addressed and rectified,” Chon added.
PacPlex, a sports and recreation complex in Canarsie, Brooklyn, that offers everything from adult swim classes to baby-and-me lessons, racked up 68 violations -- 42 of them critical -- over the last two years. In total, 17 violations were related to water quality at the complex.
PacPlex's club manager told the I-Team that “everything's been cleaned up and the violations have been addressed."
The Health Department said the club has no outstanding violations.
On Staten Island, LA Fitness was hit with 37 critical violations, including inadequate pool staff, no pool safety plan and poor water quality.
LA Fitness has not responded to the I-Team's request for comment, but the Health Department said it has no open violations.
Body by Brooklyn, a gym with a pool in Clinton Hill, had 23 critical violations. The manager said the facility has fixed many of the problems and are fighting other violations in court.
The Health Department says the Brooklyn gym has corrected its deficiencies, but companies still have to face an administrative judge to either dispute the charges or pay the associated fines.
The Health Department only closes a pool or spa if violations there cannot be corrected; all of the violations against the spas mentioned by the I-Team have been addressed.
State Sen. Tony Avella of Queens says he thinks businesses with serious and chronic problems should be shut down, like the Spa Castle location in Manhattan was earlier this week.
"This latest news only reinforces what our community has long known -- we need significantly stronger oversight and scrutiny of these businesses," Avella said. "It is outrageous that while one Spa Castle location is inflicting tragedy, the second opened without a safety plan or basic permits."
The Democrat said he asked the mayor to form an inter-agency task force to address spa safety.
That task force, made up of investigators from consumer affairs, health, fire and other departments, would go into each location, perform an inspection and shut down the location if the violations are serious, Avella said.