Let the Kids Play

Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) President Susan Rosenthal says she’s ready to spend. With a capital budget account bursting with over $10 million this year, and upwards of $20 million next year, according to Rosenthal, Islanders need to voice their opinions as to where the money is best allocated.

RIOC is a public benefit corporation. That means expenditures, as well as the use and maintenance of Island facilities, should benefit Island residents. This raises my big question: why are we renting our public spaces for the exclusive use of off-Island, for-profit businesses? And more importantly, how much more of our Island is going to be sold to benefit off-Island groups?

Without a doubt, RIOC has been responsive to complaints about the permitting of the Octagon field. After an outcry from Island groups about being locked out of use of the Octagon field, RIOC implemented a system giving Islanders preference for the paid, permitted use of the field. A step in the right direction – but only a step.

What about those of us who want to kick the ball around on a Saturday afternoon with friends without paying for a permit? Currently, ZogSports and other off-Island recreational businesses pay for use of the Octagon field to the exclusion of Islanders. With a capital budget account bursting (so much so that we may not be receiving the promised payments for Cornell Tech due to this surplus), what is the need to offer exclusive permits to off-Island groups at all?

Permits for special events should always be considered, as the Island is welcoming and accommodating to those who wish to share our beautiful neighborhood. But the all-day, all- weekend-long permitting of the Octagon field goes far beyond this.

Simply put, there are limited places for our kids to play. We apparently don’t need the money. So why not give our field back to us? Or at least reserve a portion that isn’t rented out?

To date, despite discussions going back years, there is not a plan to improve the quality of the other fields and make them usable. Multiple weekends in a row, Island events, practices, and games, including opening day of the Roosevelt Island Center of Community Development Little League season, had to be cancelled or rescheduled because the grass fields were unplayable following a typical spring rain. Meanwhile ZogSports were out playing on the Octagon field.

Too much of the Island has already been sold off despite (sometimes loud) concerns. It’s time to draw the line.

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