New York State, under Governor Andrew Cuomo, is subsidizing a commercial real estate operation. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, under Cuomo’s appointee Charlene Indelicato, is complicit. Perhaps unwittingly, the RIOC Board of Directors is also complicit.
Drastic corrective action is needed.
Let’s examine the facts.
Four years ago, the RIOC Board turned Main Street storefronts over to developer Hudson/Related (H/R), in an effort to spruce up Island retail. A good-enough motive, but in putting the deal together, RIOC turned over the second floor at 504 Main Street, above what will become the new home of the Island’s branch of the New York Public Library.
That second floor would have been perfect community space – a boon to the library and ideal for Island groups in need of a decent meeting hall.
Along the way, the Island got hit by Sandy, and the space that was occupied rent-free for 30 years by The Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance was damaged. Acting at the speed of frozen tar, RIOC repaired the quarters, but now, just before reopening the space, has made a surprise announcement to MST&DA that, in the future, MST&DA will be paying rent.
Understand: For 30 years, MST&DA has conducted highly valuable programs that have turned Island children into confident youngsters, ready and able to appear before an audience. Quality theatre has happened there. Top-flight exercise classes have been available.
RIOC’s rationale for imposing fees? Other Island groups need space for their activities, and there’s a shortage of such space.
The upshot? To survive, MST&DA will need to crank up a fundraising operation. And cut back its programs.
So, let’s understand what’s happened here: MST&DA will cut valuable programs and raise rent money to pay RIOC-imposed fees, on RIOC’s excuse that there’s a shortage of space for other community groups, while perfectly suitable space is held empty so that a commercial rental operation, Hudson/Related, can attempt to rent it out.
There’s the connection: MST&DA must fundraise to subsidize H/R.
To subsidize H/R and, not incidentally, the competing (and reportedly inferior) exercise classes that RIOC has mounted at Sportspark.
MST&DA is not alone in this. Similarly, the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association (RIVAA) must find ways to pay for its Gallery RIVAA space. Like 504, that was turned over to H/R, and H/R gets to impose rent and electricity costs.
All this while other retail spaces remain empty.
Odds are that something similar will happen to another valuable Island non-profit – the Cabrini Thrift Shop, closed so that its space, too, can be offered in the H/R portfolio – again, while other retail storefronts remain empty.
The Cuomo administration, through RIOC, is forcing valued non-profit organizations to fundraise and cut programs to pay suddenly imposed rent – all, effectively, subsidies of Hudson/Related: Valuable non-profit programs are being sacrificed and squeezed to subsidize the activities of a commercial developer.
Is it incidental that RIOC is planning, simultaneously, nearly-doubled capital spending of $37 million for the coming fiscal year? Is any of that earmarked for turning raw space into something that community groups could use? (No.) And is it incidental that the Public Purpose Funds that have helped Island non-profits appear to be threatened in future years?
The RIOC Board should have resisted these mindless changes, and should now correct them by whatever means is required. The changes make RIOC act like the Triboro Bridge Authority, which does not manage a community.
It is a challenge, admittedly. The offense is cumulative over many years of what may have seemed, at the time, to be sensible decisions. But any excuse of “unintended collateral damage” is now bogus. The RIOC Board has the power to rein in a RIOC that has discarded the values that built a great community. If the residents on the RIOC Board can’t do it, they should all resign – or perhaps find a less drastic way to bring New York State and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation in line with Roosevelt Island values.