RIOC Plans $37 Million Capital Work
by Briana Warsing
The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) expects to spend $37 million on capital projects in the fiscal year starting April 1. The amount, double last year’s figure, is part of an overall budget of $66.2 million, already approved by the RIOC Board of Directors.
“The $37 million budget is indeed more than has been budgeted for capital projects in recent times,” RIOC’s Anna Rankin told The WIRE. “RIOC currently owes a debt to the NYS Urban Development Corporation (UDC) for its initial investment in Roosevelt Island’s infrastructure. RIOC is able to apply this money to needed infrastructure improvements and defer repayment of this debt. If this money is not allocated to capital projects, we may be obligated to send this money to the UDC.” Rankin, RIOC’s Communications and Events Coordinator, spoke in consultation with the Chief Financial Officer, Frances Walton.
“Our focus is mainly on improving the Island’s aging infrastructure and addressing existing repair needs,” said Rankin. Among the projects:
• Renovation of the Blackwell House interior, including mechanical systems
• Repairs to the Blackwell House porches
• Addition of an ADA-compliant entrance to Blackwell House
• Improvements to the fountains east of Blackwell House, including replacement of pavers
• Repairs to the helix (the ramp to/from the Roosevelt Island bridge)
• Lighting upgrades at Capobianco Field
• Work on the exterior of the lighthouse
• Replacement elevators at the Manhattan Tram station
• Seawall repairs and improvements
• Sportspark repairs
• Construction of the Eastern Pier (next to the east tower of the Queensboro Bridge) for ferry service. Mayor Bill di Blasio’s plan for ferries includes Roosevelt Island, but there are doubts that the pier in question can be adequate. In a Monday meeting of RIOC’s Operations Advisory Committee, President Charlene Indelicato commented that nothing has been heard from the City about the ferry plan, and she raised the question of funding availability for the dock.
In addition, RIOC is in discussions with the City Health and Hospitals Corporation about cleaning up Coler Hospital’s east-side parking lot to enhance the land leading to Lighthouse Park.
Much of the increase in capital spending is the result of rolling over funds from the current fiscal year, as less than one-third of the budgeted money was actually spent. Rankin emphasized, “A budget is a planning document – not a mandate. Now that there is sufficient revenue to fund larger projects, our capital projects schedule has become more ambitious. Whether the money in the budget is spent this year or the next, that amount has been set aside and earmarked for the listed projects.”
As a State agency, RIOC must jump through a variety of hoops in the process of spending money. An example was discussed in Monday’s Operations Committee meeting. The elevator at the Manhattan Tram station is to be replaced. Bids were requested, but there were no bidders initially. A bidder was finally located, but only for design, not construction.
Indelicato discussed that elevator situation in a Wednesday press release, writing, “As the elevators themselves are due for an overhaul, the most efficient way to deal with the issues is through a replacement of the current system. After rating and ranking responses to a Request for Proposals (RFP) to design two new, larger, ADA-accessible elevators, RIOC has selected a contractor. The new elevators will replace the current smaller elevator as well as the red accessible lift, improving the station’s accessibility. A kickoff meeting will soon be held, where the elevator designers will present their proposals. The design is scheduled to be completed within 90 days. Once the design is complete, RIOC will seek a qualified contractor to build the elevators to specifications.”
In Monday’s meeting, it seemed apparent that, with the bidding, reviewing, and permitting required, the first of the new elevators is a year away. Among other requirements, RIOC and the City have to agree on use of land that is now part of Tramway Park.
The Island is unique in that its “municipal” budget is not financed by residents’ taxes, but through ground rent paid by developers and owners of the housing complexes, who receive rent or maintenance payments from residents. Some outside money comes from permitting of film shoots, Motorgate parking, and tourist use of the Tram, but the Island’s finances are mostly funded by those who live here. Tram revenue and Motorgate income are largely offset by payments for their management.
Capital projects are one part of a three-part budget that also accounts for personal services (staff), for which they have $18.3 million, and “other than personal services,” or OTPS (such as insurance, office supplies, AVAC repairs, and buses), for which they have $10.3 million.
“Our operating budget is easier to predict,” explained Rankin in an email exchange with The WIRE. “The capital budget is subject to a higher degree of change due to many factors. Project budget lines are based on an estimate of how much the project will cost. During competitive bidding, vendors submit prices that may vary from our estimate for a variety of reasons, so other projects may be postponed or changed in scope due to the level of construction and other activity on the Island.”
RIOC’s fiscal year budget for 2015-16 is available on line at RIOC.com/pdf/15-16ApprovedBudget.pdf.