After receiving mixed public reaction to the proposed installation of large, red R and I letters on the lawn in front of the Tramway plaza, an advisory committee of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) postponed its decision regarding the design and placement of the sculpture, and will, instead, try to gather views from residents on the matter.
At the November 9 meeting of the Real Estate Development Advisory Committee, members argued the sculpture hadn’t been properly vetted, and did not have community support.
“There are different needs between residents and visitors,” said Board member David Kraut.
RIOC is working with developer Hudson Related to ascertain how to gather community feedback. “The current thinking is to bring [the letters] back for residents to experience the mockup sometime in the new year,” said Hudson Related’s David Kramer. So far, nothing has been finalized. The installation is part of a larger effort by RIOC and Hudson Related to improve wayfinding on the Island, and ultimately improve commercial retail.
The concept of the sculpture was first introduced at a January 2016 committee meeting. At the time, a representative from the design consulting group Calori & Vanden-Eynden, which is working on the initiative with Hudson Related, explained, “The idea is to make a placemaking, welcoming sign. It’s a fun way to landmark Roosevelt Island and say, ‘You are here.’” At a RIOC Board meeting in April, after Hudson Related showed renderings, the Board approved directional wayfinding signs and kiosks with maps, as well as the RI sculpture.
But, after a mockup of the letters was temporarily placed at the Tram station, support by RIOC Board members appeared to waver. During an October 19 Board meeting, several Board members said they had only approved placing the mock-up of the RI sign – not the final construction and installation.
At November’s Real Estate Development Advisory Committee, RIOC General Counsel Jacqueline Flug confirmed that the Board did, in fact, approve the sign; however, its design and location cannot be finalized without the approval of the advisory committee.
“There was enthusiasm,” Kramer reminded committee members at the November 9 meeting. “There was support and excitement. We wouldn’t have gone to the expense of a mockup otherwise.”
Kramer also said the company was willing to consider alternate designs, but was adamant about the sculpture’s placement by the Tram. “That’s the location. Whatever the mockup is going to be; that’s the location,” he told committee members.
He says the structure’s purpose is to greet Island visitors stepping off the Tram. “There’s one logical place where visitors arrive on Roosevelt Island where we should have a welcome monument—at the Tram plaza,” he said after the meeting. “It makes much less sense to locate a welcome monument at the ferry or the Rivercross lawn.”
But the location is what is most objectionable to Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judy Berdy. “I think it will be an obstacle,” she told committee members.
“David Kramer came to visit us,” Berdy recalled at the November meeting. “I said, if we have to have it, we’ll make the best of it. The truth is, I love you, David, but I really don’t love this [sign]. 55,000 visitors a year come to the Visitors Center. They love taking pictures of the Tram. No matter how I say it, it’s an intrusion; we’ll be looking through the [sign] to see if there are people coming off the Tram. We have a beautiful lawn, with a beautiful panoramic view of Manhattan.”
Board member Margie Smith argued that residents – and Board members – weren’t given enough time to effectively evaluate the mockup. “The reason we asked for a mockup is that we wanted the residents to have a chance to see it,” she said at the committee meeting. ‘It was 20 minutes here, then moved there for 20 minutes, and so on. We wanted it there for a couple of days. I think we need to talk to people on the Island, look at the mockup again. I think we are rushing into it. It’s a big deal; it’s a really big deal. As far as I’m concerned, we didn’t have a mockup for this.”