On Wednesday night, Scot Bobo, known by Islanders as Coach Scot, stood up in the downstairs meeting room of the Good Shepherd Community Center to testify that, no, permitting the Island’s sports fields does not drive business to the Island.
Last week, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation announced that in addition to Pony Field and Firefighter’s Field, they would also start permitting Capobianco Field, a reversal to RIOC President Susan Rosenthal’s mandate in February 2018 to leave that field open for community use. Rosenthal maintains that permitting the fields bring customers to Island busineses.
Scot Bobo speaks in the public session of the February RIRA meeting, seated next to him are RIOC staff, Jessica Murray and Erica Spencer-El
“I can tell you first hand that the players that come here do not contribute anything to the economy of the Island except [Riverwalk Bar & Grill],” said Bobo to a captivated crowd that included RIOC’s Erica Spencer-El and Jessica Murray. “We watched for four years while they walked down the street, or sometimes took the bus. They passed [Nisi], they passed Wholesome Market, they passed everything.”
Bobo opened his ice cream shop, Main Street Sweets, on Main Street in 2012, where BubbleCool is now located. By the fall of 2016, he was closing his doors citing a lack of foot traffic on Main Street. He said that he believes the lack of foot traffic on Main Street is likely to be an ongoing problem.
“I read that comment about [permitting] bringing commerce to the Island and it’s really not true. Sometimes players got a coffee at Starbucks. But that’s it. They brought their sports drinks and their bags. These are social groups; they’re not the NFL; they’re not stopping anywhere except [Riverwalk] or maybe now NISI.”
“Stopping for a coffee? I wouldn’t call that bringing business to the Island,” chortled Island Services Committee Chair Rossana Ceruzzi in agreement.
Bobo’s wasn’t the only voice at the Roosevelt Island Residents Association who spoke on the matter. Lauren Blankstein and her ten-year old son, Niv, also spoke about their disappointment with this new policy.
Blankstein explained that there are a “growing group of Islanders [who] are concerned about the overpermitting of playing fields on the Island.” She pointed to “a direct impact” this is having on her own family and other families she knows. Though RIOC is offering a spring soccer program, Blankstein’s son, does not participate in RIOC’s program. RIOC’s program does not include a travel team, something that Niv and many other Island youth have benefitted from in the past, and continue to find ways to pursue.
This decision to permit Capobianco surprised Blankstein who had attended a meeting in October with RIOC President Susan Rosenthal, other RIOC staff, and Island soccer stakeholders. “A small group of us met primarily about the Octagon Field; I am not going to get into that but I was very unhappy with how that was handled. [Rosenthal] wants permitting but she seemed open to different options. That’s why we are surprised.”
Ceruzzi, an attendee of the October meeting, agreed. “They seemed to listen to the needs of the community. That’s why we are all shocked about the latest news.” Though she did acknowledge that Rosenthal pushed back on the group’s request not to permit at all, citing Island commerce.
Adib Mansour, RIRA’s Children, Youth & Education committee chair said that in his view, soccer fields and open spaces are meant for kids. “After they spend time in school and finish homework, they were meant to go to the fields and bond with their friends and release steam.”
He said that at the October meeting, “We were told that the kids can get a permit: what kid is going to go to RIOC and get a permit. What kid has insurance. Really limiting.”
Lauren Blankstein and her 10-year old son both spoke in front of the common council to advocate for less permitting of the Island's fields. while RIRA president and Vice President look on.
Blankstein believes the overpermitting is a symptom of a larger problem on the Island. “It really makes no sense. I really don’t understand how on an Island with all of this green space why our kids are so restricted.”
She said that prior to moving to Rivercross, their family lived at 465 Main Street and that the coop board at 455 Main Street restricted ball-playing from the buildings’ shared backyard. “Where are our kids supposed to play ball? This is what kids do.”
Erin Feely-Nahem, chair of RIRA’s public safety committee likened the problem to what has happened on the Island with young adults, “They had nothing to do so they were hanging out in front of the deli.”
Bringing everyone in the room back to childhood, Niv described the friends he had made playing on the Octagon Field, where life can be as simple as heading to the field with your ball after school and playing with whoever is around. “Some of my friends live across the Island from me and I haven’t seen them since they closed the Octagon Field. I don’t know when I’m going to see them again.”
He requested RIOC move the five goals in Octagon Field to the other fields. He said there are no soccer goals at Pony Field and Firefighter’s Field only has two goals. “I think increasing the amount of goals on each field would help. Sometimes teenagers and grown-ups are also playing soccer and we have to play between their goals.”
This is the rarest of city neighborhoods where kids are safe to play outside without active parental supervision. As Feely-Nahem said in the meeting, “Here in a residential community there are windows everywhere.”
Coach Scot is currently coaching Winter Ball for kids 8 - 13 years olds, a free program designed to improve all abilities for all skill levels. Each week begins with fundamental instruction and drills, including fielding, catching, throwing, hitting, and specializations such as first base, pitcher and catcher. Following 'fundies', they play their famous Winter Wiffle Ball game with teams divided up by the coaches so that teams are fair and different each week.
The goal of Winter Ball is for each player to improve their skills, as well as deepen their knowledge of the game. Winter Ball takes place on Sundays in the gym at PS 217 from 5:30 - 7pm. All you need is your glove, (and they will loan you one if you don't have one). It is all volunteer run and is 100% FREE! Sign Up here.