Philadelphia has it’s LOVE statue, a typographic tribute to “the city of brotherly love.” Chicago has Cloud Gate, a gigantic metal jelly bean reflecting the city around it. And soon, Roosevelt Island may have its own art installation welcoming tourists to the Island.
But where to put it?
A mockup of our new “welcome sign” – a giant letter R and I, in red helvetica font – was placed by the Tram Tuesday afternoon, first on the sidewalk, then on the mound of the grass east of the Roosevelt Island Visitors Center Kiosk. Later, the sign was moved to outside the subway entrance, close to where the bicycle rack is located on the south side. It was also spotted by Islander Frank Farance on the lawn outside Rivercross.
RIOC tested various Island locations for a new sign Tuesday.
The installation is part of a larger effort by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) and developer Hudson/Related to improve wayfinding on the Island, and ultimately improve commercial retail outcomes. The other steps include kiosks with maps, and directional signs. Hudson/Related partnered with design consulting group Calori & Vanden-Eynden to create the design.
“The idea is to make a placemaking, welcoming sign,” explained a representative from Calori & Vanden-Eynden at a preliminary meeting in January. “It’s a fun way to landmark Roosevelt Island and say ‘You are here.’” The group proposed placing the piece at Tramway Plaza. “The Tram stop is the main point of contact for most people, particularly visitors. People can interact with the sign. It’s a photo op, with Manhattan in the background, and the shadow of the RI letters on the grass.”
According to Alexandra Kaplan, of Hudson Related, that’s exactly what happened Tuesday. She said, “We were very pleased by the results. Within a short period of time, children were running in front of the letters to have their picture taken. One woman walked off the Tram and exclaimed that the signage made her so happy to come home.”
Roosevelt Island Historical Society President, Judy Berdy, disagrees. On Wednesday morning, she wrote a letter protesting the sign’s proposed location by the Tram. “This sculpture will not attract tourists. It will not promote the Island. It will only clutter up a pristine area and detract from the magnificent views we treasure."
Crews drove the sign mockup around the Island testing it at various locations.
In addition to the sculpture, Hudson Related has also proposed wayfinding kiosks with maps, orienting the viewer and indicating points of interest, including parks, businesses, and historical sites.
Additional signage, will be located throughout the Island, indicating directions and distances to specific points of interest. RIOC and Hudson Related will share the expense for the initiatives.
“I think most of us are in firm agreement that the Island needs various ‘You are here’ maps located throughout the Island,” said Kaplan.
“I love the welcome sign. I think it’s fantastic,” said RIOC President Susan Rosenthal when the designs were proposed. “Some form of signage has been demanded by everyone on the Island.”
Board member Michael Shinozaki agreed. “Folks that come here on a regular basis, they want to figure out what field they need to be on, and then they want to know where they can get a beer.”
Berdy, however, questions whether efforts to attract tourists wouldn’t be better served by focusing on the Manhattan side of the Tram. “RIOC should focus on driving visitors to take the Tram and, furthermore, providing information on the Manhattan side so visitors will know they can eat, drink, shop, and walk around the Island when they get here,” she wrote. “An ‘RI’ on the Island will not attract visitors, nor will it encourage them to leave Tramway Plaza and explore the area.”
Rosenthal says the final location of the sign has yet to be determined. The RIOC Real Estate and Development Advisory Committee will approve a location in the coming weeks. The signage and kiosks are currently being manufactured.