RIOC is spending $70,000 for off-Island consultants to ask residents, "What would you like Southpoint Park to be?", then to describe that concept and sell it to residents.
Consulting firm Fitzgerald & Halliday will spend 11 months doing it. Sub-consultants are involved, too.
As previously reported here on April 28, on that night, a team of two kicked off the process with members of a committee representing a variety of Island interests and stakeholders. As described by consultants Arnie Bloch and Mary Miltimore, the team will work with the community to “establish a vision for the park…to be determined by the community.” Miltimore explained that the role of the committee is not just to offer ideas, but ultimately to unite around a final vision, then “support the consensus of this group within the community.”
A new buzzword came to Roosevelt Island as part of the process: There will be a “planning charette.” (A charette is defined as “a final, intensive effort to finish a project, especially an architectural design project, before a deadline.”)
“This is a very community-driven process,” said one of the consultants. The Community Advisory Committee has representatives from more than 20 Roosevelt Island organizations. The committee is scheduled to meet four times during the project, providing advice and input throughout. The first meeting has not been scheduled yet but is planned for mid-summer. There are “pop-up” outreach meetings planned. The first will be at the Farmer’s Market on May 14.
“This space has so much potential,” said one of the consultants. Other such revelatory gems may come in the future but, in the meantime, the 25 or so committee members who attended last Thursday night offered some of their notions of what the park should be:
Matthew Katz suggested the Renwick Ruin (known to Judy Berdy of the Historical Society as only the Smallpox Hospital – “There is no ‘Renwick Ruin!’”) should be stabilized in a useful way. RIRA President Jeff Escobar said it “should be adaptable to the community.” Judy Berdy said “the flora should be enhanced.” Eva Bosbach spoke warmly of the landscape. Rossana Ceruzzi, an advocate for the Island’s wildlife, asked that the shoreline be more accessible, a notion later seconded by Berdy, who suggested more comfortable seating would be a good idea. Jim Bates of the Disabled Association spoke out for better overall accessibility, and Jane Swanson of Cornell Tech asked that the park be “gate-free” (at present, the gate is locked from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.). Eva Bosbach of the Parents Network called for a café, and Rick O’Conor of the Roosevelt Islander blog asked for more shade.
Until a day or two prior to the meeting, it was intended to be closed, attended only by the consultants and committee members, but in an April 26 meeting, RIOC Board member Margie Smith called for the session to be open to press and public. Interested parties came to observe and, eventually, comment.
Southpoint Park was opened to the public in 2011 after a RIOC Board member, the late Mark Ponton, demanded that the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation get moving. A community-wide process settled on a plan known as “Green Rooms, Wild Gardens.” The current process is apparently intended to determine whether the community really meant what it said when it voted.
In 2005, The Trust for Public Land finalized a master plan for developing a long-vacant site at the southern end of the Island – transforming it into a seven-acre park with expansive lawns, gardens, and spectacular waterfront views.
Following directives from the master plan, they assisted RIOC in raising $13 million to design and build the new park. This included stabilizing architect James Renwick’s Smallpox Hospital, the City’s only landmarked ruin.
On August 2, 2011, The Trust for Public Land joined City and State officials to cut the ribbon on this new park. In Fall 2012, the FDR Four Freedoms Park, designed by the great 20th century architect Louis Kahn, opened on its adjacent site.
Now, south of the Queensboro Bridge, the Island will have Cornell Tech, Southpoint Park, the FDR Hope Memorial, and Four Freedoms Park – attractions that will be just as much a draw for tourists as they will be for Island residents.