After this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival brought tens of thousands of visitors to the Island – some estimates have the number at as much as 50,000 – the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) announced that they are joining forces with other city and state agencies to formulate a plan for the participatory arts festival FIGMENT, scheduled for June 1 and 2 at Lighthouse Park. RIOC President Susan Rosenthal is calling their plan a “test case” for what will be their new protocol for large events.
Around 10,000 visitors were expected on the Island for this year’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival, somewhere in the neighborhood of last year’s number. Instead, somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 and, depending on your source, 50,000 came. Islanders complained about not being able to get to work, not being able to get home, and about our stores running out of basic necessities. There were lines at Gristede’s for their one restroom, (not to mention Starbucks and the library), Duane Reade ran out of water, Cornell Tech and all of the vendors ran out of food, and residents complained about festival attendees walking through the Roosevelt Landings complex looking for restrooms.
RIOC Chief Operating Officer Shelton Haynes
RIOC’s Chief Operating Officer Shelton Haynes announced that RIOC has taken a fresh approach to planning for FIGMENT. At a recent RIOC Operations committee meeting he explained that following the advice of Chief Jack McManus and Deputy Kevin Brown, he reached out to New York City Emergency Management (NYCEM) and has confirmed that they will be on the Island for FIGMENT.
Members of RIOC, that included both Public Safety Department personnel as well as Haynes and Rosenthal, had a first meeting with NYCEM Commissioner Joseph Esposito at the NYCEM headquarters that Haynes characterized as “productive.”
He explained that they conducted a thorough Cherry Blossom Festival assessment and then had a second meeting focused on moving forward that entailed security, crowd control, and public transportation.
The second meeting was attended by representatives of the 114th Precinct, whose jurisdiction we are under, the MTA, and the FDNY, among others. Haynes said they would be reaching out to Coler Hospital as well as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to reexamine their approach. Specifically, they looked at bathrooms and water needs collectively.
They have not released an official plan for the FIGMENT festival yet, but shared some initial takeaways, like the need for ticketing. They will use the event technology platform eventbrite to both gauge interest for planning purposes as well as to limit access to the event.
Haynes explained that RIOC would be working with the 114th Precinct for all large events moving forward and that for FIGMENT, “They’ll all be on-Island, NYCEM and the 114th.” At the last RIOC Board meeting, Rosenthal explained that RIOC would employ the use of “hundreds and hundreds of barricades for pedestrians entering the subway” and that they’d have traffic control in Queens.
Haynes described the second meeting as concrete, explaining there were “Island maps all across the table so we could discuss every area of impact.” Explaining they are taking this very seriously, he said, “I think we will come up with a great plan. We are making our best efforts. We look forward to having a successful event.”
They have also consulted with Governor’s Island, the longtime host of the FIGMENT festival who confirmed that they hired extra ferries for the festival, so RIOC has requested extra ferries. They reached out to the MTA to nail down whether there will be F-train service that weekend, though new Chief Financial Officer John O’Reilly countered that the MTA would “never guarantee it.”
According to RIOC’s Assistant Director of Capital Planning and Projects, Jonna Carmona-Graff, FIGMENT drew 3,500 visitors to Governor’s Island on the first day of the festival last year and over 12,000 on the second. She confirmed that FIGMENT doesn’t do any marketing. Representatives from FIGMENT told Carmona-Graff that they feel confident that FIGMENT won’t attract as many visitors as the Cherry Blossom Festival did but she said, “nevertheless we still want to plan for it.”
Haynes said, “This will be a test model for all future events and we want to make sure everyone is safe and can enjoy ourselves.”