After a summer hiatus, both the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, and the Roosevelt Island Residents Association held their first meetings last week. RIOC’s was rife with updates on the tram elevator, coming, Blackwell House, opening soon, and the soccer field, scheduled to open later this month.
RIOC welcomed familiar face, Gretchen Robinson, back to RIOC as General Counel and Vice President, a role most recently held by Jacqueline Flug. Robinson was first at RIOC starting in 2015, as the Compliance & Internal Controls Officer for RIOC. In 2018, she left to become Senior Counsel to the Empire State Development Corporation’s Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development.
RIRA spent the bulk of their meeting in executive session dealing with irregularities in their bank account.
Keep up with RIOC Projects
RIOC CFO John O’Reilly presented the Capital Budget for 2021, $40.8 million for capital projects for 2020-2021. This represents an increase of over $6.2 million over last year’s approved budget.
RIOC CFO John O’Reilly presented this year's capital budget, $40.8 million
Announced during the summer, RIOC added a capital projects tracker to their website. Visitors to the RIOC website can see which projects have started, what is planned, and how much money has been invested. In her President’s Report, Susan Rosenthal said of the tracker, “It helps provide transparency, that the community has asked for.”
Soccer Field to Open This Month
Also in her President’s Report, Rosenthal confirmed that the Octagon Field is still “scheduled” to be completed this month. In fact, though a specific start date is not specified, the RIOC website clarifies that their youth fall soccer program will take place there.
Rosenthal restated that during the second phase of work on the field – consisting of reconstructing the paths and seating areas to meet ADA requirements, new bathrooms, a new shade pavilion near the bathrooms, bleachers and an upgrade to the planted areas – the field will be open for use.
Tram Elevator Project on Manhattan Side to Restart Soon
Rosenthal said that “All permits have now been received.” The current holdup is that the contractor has to reassemble the subcontracters that have found other work during the shutdown. “We should see some shovels really soon,” said Rosenthal.
New Tram Installation to Cover its North Side
Speaking of the tram, new art may soon grace the north side of the station on the Island side. Former RIOC board member Margie Smith, speaking on behalf of the Roosevelt Island Visual Artists Association (RIVAA), presented a plan by artist Silvio Wolf of an installation that would cover the entire north face of the tram station on the Island.
Margie Smith, at the podium, is a former RIOC board member and a supporter of RIVAA's Island of Art
RIVAA clarified they were not asking for RIOC to foot the bill.
Rosenthal said that there could be no cost or liability to RIOC, and that the work could not in any way hinder the normal schedule of the tram and therefore would have to be undertaken during the period between 2:00am and 6:00am weekdays in which the tram is not running. Smith ensured that all of that was already discussed with the artists and also assured that the installation will be temporary, for three years.
The board decided to allow the endeavour empowering Rosenthal to proceed in the analysis and final approval with the artist.
Resident Demands Answers Regarding RI Sign
The meeting started with prepared comments from from Southtown resident Janet Falk, a vocal opponent to the RI Sign at the foot of the tram.
RIOC President is seated next to Board chair Alejandro Valella, New York State Homes & Community Renewal
Falk said, “In May, I asked [RIOC President] Susan [Rosenthal] to report on the impact of the monument. To my surprise, she could not provide one statistic to prove that the monument had attracted visitors, enticed them to stay longer on the island, spend more money, be more active on social media, or generate more favorable comments by residents – not one datapoint. She could only cite anecdotal reports by tram operators, and herself, that tourists enjoy it and take photos. Then she said, “But feel free to speak to the Board during any public comment period if you wish them to take action.” So here I am.”
She explained the history behind its creation, and disagreed that it encourages tourism, “Susan, I have anecdotal evidence, too. Hundreds of people ignore the monument, and thousands actively detest it.”
Notably, new RIOC board member Jeff Escobar was RIRA President when RIRA voted unanimously in opposition to the sign, calling it “an eyesore.” That resolution was omitted from the report RIOC’s Real Estate Development Advisory Committee relied upon when they voted to install the sign for a trial three-month period.
Falk closed by asking the board five questions that went unanswered by the board.
1. On what date did the RIOC Board decide the “temporary” RI Monument would become permanent?
2. What criteria were used to arrive at that decision of permanent installation?
3. RIRA, as you may recall, voted overwhelmingly against the monument. What input did the residents have in that decision of permanent installation?
4. When and how was this decision communicated to residents?
5. What criteria and what process would reverse that decision?
Citibike to come by Spring
The Citibike conversation, on pause for a few years, is back. Rosenthal explained that she had previously been told RIOC would be on the hook for both the stations and the operations but that is not not the case. She explained that nothing regarding station placement has been decided yet, but by the spring we will have Citibike on Roosevelt Island.
According to the tracker, the bike lane along the eastern promenade and ramp from the red bridge are still in the planning stage.
It was the same old story with Blackwell House. It is still not ready to be opened. FDNY and DOE inspections haven’t been passed yet but Rosenthal said the scaffolding will be coming down soon.
RIRA Goes to Executive Session
RIRA President Lynne Shinozaki, standing, presides over the meeting last Wednesday evening
The Roosevelt Island Residents Association’s (RIRA) summer hiatus ended on Wednesday evening. After some minor agenda items, a brief deliberation was followed by an even quicker vote and both press and public were asked to leave so they group could discuss their treasurer in executive session.
In a press release the following day, RIRA President Lynne Shinozaki revealed that irregularities were discovered in the RIRA bank account of sufficient gravity as to start an internal investigation that led to a police investigation culminating in the resignation of the newly installed treasurer. Despite the irregularities being sufficiently grave to lead to a police investigation, Shinozaki said that it appears no funds are missing.
The press release confirmed that their unwillingness to comment is “Because an investigation is underway, there are limits to what may be publicly discussed. RIRA will provide updates as permitted.”