If the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) gets its way, Roosevelt Island will receive over $23.9 million from New York State this coming year to help with long overdue capital expenses.
The money is the result of a 2013 agreement between RIOC and the State in exchange for handing over the land that the Loop Road, which rings Cornell’s development, sits on. The deal, outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), stated that the State would pay $1 million per year until 2069, when control of Roosevelt Island passes from New York State’s control back to New York City’s, or a lump sum payment of the net present value, all before December 31, 2018.
However, last year, when RIOC discussed including the money in the 2017/2018 budget, the State insisted that the payment was optional and would be released only If needed. Without mentioning the overdue projects, residents were concerned that the State would fail to see the need. RIOC Board Member Margie Smith sided with residents and was the only RIOC Director to vote in favor of including the expenditures and the anticipated income from the State in last year’s budget.
“When New York State sent us the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) stating the arrangement we’d reached, it contained [what we believed to be] boilerplate language; ‘According to State budgetary procedures,’” says Smith. “When we asked what that meant, we were told, simply, that there was a process to release the money. But later we heard that it made the release of the funds questionable.”
Last year, both the Roosevelt Island Community Coalition (RICC) and the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) passed twin resolutions to prevail on RIOC to include a request for the funds in the Corporation’s budget.
This year, RIOC is making the effort to fulfill what many in the community see as a promise from New York State.
A request for just over $23.9 million, the net present value, will be introduced into the RIOC budget for approval by the State in December.
Smith cautions, “We’re putting it in the budget, but the State has not completed its appropriations yet. There is no guarantee that we’re going to get that money.” The budget will need to be approved by the State Senate and Assembly, and then be signed by the Governor.
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright has promised to push for the funds. “I will fight hard in Albany to make sure the funding will reach the community and enrich the quality of life for all Roosevelt Islanders. I will work with RIOC and RIRA to assure this happens,” she said.
RIOC President Susan Rosenthal says she is intent on securing the money. And she knows exactly how she wants to spend it. “Practically nothing’s been done on the Island for 40 years,” she said. “We told the Department of Budget, ‘Hey guys, we really need this money!’ They gave us the green light.”
According to Muneshwar Jagdharry, RIOC Comptroller, without this substantial lump sum infusion of cash, and based on the needs of the Island, “We would run out of money in 2021.”
RIOC has a lengthy list of improvements it would like to make on the Island. At the top of the list are:
Blackwell House renovations that include the interior and the porch
Immediate seawall railing replacement all around the Island
Seawall construction work in Southpoint Park, for which RIOC received a $1 million grant from FEMA. The cost of the project; however, approaches $20 million
Repairs to the AVAC sanitation system
Youth Center refurbishment
Sportspark locker room renovations before the end of fiscal year 2019
Completely new, architecturally striking, Tram elevator at the Manhattan station
Bike ramp at the Island entrance of the 36th Avenue Bridge to separate riders and drivers and insure their safety
Sorely needed helix renovations
Long awaited Southpoint Park upgrades that implement a plan created by consulting firm, Fitzgerald & Haliday
Octagon Field comfort station and playing surface replacement
For Smith, the crumbling sidewalk in front of Blackwell House would rate high on RIOC’s “urgent needs” list.
The Cornell Tech campus replaces the former Goldwater Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility, on 12 acres of New York City land. It was donated, as a land grant, to Cornell and Technion Universities by New York City during Mayor Bloomberg’s administration.