RI Sign Gets a Tepid Thumbs Up

March 9, 2018

Roosevelt Island is getting its welcome sign – at least for now. 


In a unanimous decision, members of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation’s Real Estate Development Advisory Committee voted last week to complete fabrication of the controversial sculpture – which consists of large, bright red letterforms – and to place it at the Island’s Tramway plaza for a three-month trial. 


The remaining fabrication and installation costs are expected to be $15,000 and are part of an ongoing $160,000 wayfinding initiative designed to draw visitors to shops and restaurants along Main Street. The plan was developed in collaboration with Hudson/Related, the real estate partnership that manages retail spaces on the Island.


“I have been suffering from a lack of proper retail here for 39 years,” said Board Member David Kraut in explaining his decision to support the trial run. “I don’t give a damn about the tourists, but the people who try to do business here are a benefit to us. I can’t say that if we install this sign we will have a hardware store again. I can’t prove it. But I know it’s part and parcel of a larger plan to encourage people to spend money and attract more business to our Island.”


A family stopped for a selfie during the sign’s February 3 public viewing.


At the February 27 meeting, committee members received a report, dated February 5, summarizing the results of public comments following a February 3 viewing of a mockup for the sign. According to Alonza Robertson, public information officer for RIOC, the comments showed a two to one ratio in favor of the monument. The results were tallied from 61 comment cards and one email. 


However, Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judy Berdy questioned those numbers, saying she was copied on 65 emails that were sent to RIOC, as well as another 35 comments that were collected the previous SAturday at the Farmer’s Market. “There is no reason that you should not have these,” she told the committee. “I think this whole discussion is moot because you did not take the comments that were sent to you.” Of the responses she collected, Berdy said that only two expressed support. “Those numbers clearly show that our community doesn’t want this.”


At its last Common Council meeting, the Roosevelt Island Residents’ Association also passed a unanimous resolution in opposition to the sign, calling it “an eyesore.” That resolution was also omitted from the report.


Hudson/Related’s David Kramer asked the committee to look past the complaints, which he said were typical of the Island’s response to change. “Every now and then we’ve had to break a few eggs to make an omelette,” said Kramer of his 20 years as a developer on the Island. “This reaction reminds me of when we proposed taking the glass panels off the piers in the arcade. People had the same very strong, very emotional reactions. I think there is anxiety [about] change and something new. Let’s see if it’s innocuous or pleasant. If it’s negative, I’ll be right there in line with Judy.”


Hudson/Related’s Alex Kaplan, who attended the February 3 viewing, described the public’s response that day as enthusiastic. “It really becomes something that humans react to and interplay with and that’s what makes it special,” she told committee members. “It’s difficult to view it as a thing without seeing how people react to it. It’s very exciting and a fun thing that is added to the environment.”


“My suggestion is let us go the final distance and pay to have the signage fabricated and installed,” said Kramer. “My feeling is this is the obvious location. Let’s put it there for six months. I suspect nothing will change, possibly Judy’s foot traffic [at the Visitor Kiosk]will improve.” 


Resident Valerie Gallagher, who attended the meeting, disagreed with Kaplan and Kramer. She said, “I’ve lived here for eight-plus years. I love the Island’s quirkiness. I give a lot of thought to design and what it can do for people and communities. This design is not fun for kids. Additionally, the design offers nothing that will entice people to move beyond the Tram.” She also pointed out that residents don’t refer to the Island as “RI.”


While expressing concern that some community responses had been omitted, the committee agreed to give the sign a chance. Board member Margie Smith echoed Berdy’s concerns and said, “I know at least three people who sent emails. I know RIRA passed a resolution on it and sent it over. Where is the rest of the input?” 


“I’m inclined to give it a try for three months,” said RIOC Board member Howard Polivy. “I understand that RIRA strongly objected.” 


Kaplan said that additional wayfinding signage should be on the Island by July. The red color used for the welcome sign will be supplied by RIOC. A vote by the full RIOC Board is not required.


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