Is there room for a performance venue in Southpoint Park? Should dogs be given a dedicated area to frolic off-leash in the park? How do we transform the Island’s southern public space from a thoroughfare to Four Freedoms Memorial Park into a destination in its own right – and should we even try?
These were a few of the questions tackled at the Planning & Design Charrette, a July 23 workshop for the Community Plan for Southpoint Open Space, a project commissioned by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) with the goal of developing a 10-year vision for Southpoint Park and the Smallpox Hospital.
Led by the consulting firm of Fitzgerald & Halliday Inc., a group of 30 participants spent their Saturday morning discussing the merits of possible park enhancements – such as an amphitheater, lawn game and kayak rentals, picnic tables, and a new entryway – as well as potential problems.
The discussion focused on data gathered from three outreach meetings held during the spring, which solicited suggestions for improving Southpoint Park and the Smallpox Hospital. With an estimated 450 participants, the survey showed little Island consensus about what direction park improvements should take.
When asked what features should be included or enhanced in Southpoint Park, 21% of participants voted for public art or water features, 17% asked for a performance venue, and 15% voted to keep or enhance the natural landscape. There were also requests for picnic and barbecue areas (11%) and a playground (10%).
Regarding possible activities at the park, 32% of participants suggested canoe and kayak rentals, while 22% asked for special events and performances. Another 22% voted for only limited programming.
As for the future of the Smallpox Hospital, which currently stands in ruins at the southern edge of the park, 24% of participants envisioned a retail or restaurant space, 21% voted for a marketplace, while another 23% voted to only stabilize the structure and then leave it as is.
A stabilization study is currently being conducted by Walter B. Melvin Architects to evaluate what would need to be done to make the former hospital accessible to the public.
Whether any plan can become a reality is unclear. There are no funds currently earmarked by RIOC to implement a finished proposal.
“Things are moving so fast on the Island with all the development,” said Mary Miltimore, project manager at Fitzgerald & Halliday. “They [RIOC] want to have a vision and a plan in place should funding become available.”
Miltimore said the firm has posted the workshop’s materials online, southpointcommunityplan.com, and is keeping the comment stage open through the end of August so more of the community can participate.
This stage of the process is “about realizing that we are going to have to make compromises,” said Miltimore. “We can’t have everything. What might those compromises look like and what are we okay with?”
The next public meeting is scheduled for October, though a specific date hasn’t been set. A final implementation plan isn’t expected until February.
“This process should really reflect what the community wants,” Miltimore said. “This should be your plan, your vision.”