The Community Plan for Southpoint Open Space is beginning to take shape.
On October 10, consulting firm Fitzgerald & Halliday presented four possible visions for the future development of the Island’s southern park, with ideas ranging from hammocks and game tables to an amphitheater space for performances.
The public meeting, which was attended by a couple dozen Islanders, will help shape the direction for the plan’s final proposal, expected in January. Participants voted on which new features they thought should be made a priority by dropping blue carnival tickets into boxes spread around the room.
The Community Plan for Southpoint Open Space was commissioned by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) in March. The goal was to outline a 10-year vision for future improvements to Southpoint Park, which lies between the future Cornell tech campus and the Four Freedoms Memorial and opened in 2011. Fitzgerald & Halliday has spent the last eight months polling Islanders and collecting feedback to ascertain how the community would like to see the park used.
No funds are currently allocated for implementing the final proposal. Instead, the plan is intended to serve as a blueprint for future fundraising efforts.
In a slideshow presentation, project manager Mary Miltimore outlined four possible plans for the park, each seeking to strike a different balance between preserving quiet “passive” spaces and providing active areas for games, performances, or public meetings.
Miltimore said the firm’s focus will be to create flexible installations that can serve a variety of purposes depending on season and time of day.
Possibilities include a splash pad that can be disassembled during colder months, a pavilion that could host nature workshops or serve as a picnic area, and a small performance space. Other ideas for the park included a natural play space, art installations, a place for food vendors, and regrading of the hill’s topography to create a more accessible pathway as well as providing a potential sledding hill in winter months.
Also notable were the ideas that didn’t make the cut. A kayak or canoe launch, popular with Island voters early in the process, was dropped to avoid conflict with the future ferry dock and out of concern for strong currents in the area.
“We think this is a good idea that might work better somewhere else on the Island,” said Miltimore.
Regardless which additional features – if any – are chosen for the final proposal, the group is recommending a few basic alterations to the park to make it more inviting to visitors. Removal of the northern fence separating the park from the Cornell Tech campus is a big one, and relocating the fences along the east and west shorelines closer to the water, as well as adding historical markers and seating.
Miltimore says the group is researching temporary fencing options for events that would require additional security.
Reactions to the various proposals ranged from excitement to dismay. Nine-year-old Emily Eleusizov expressed enthusiasm for hammocks in the park, while Benjamin Moore, an actor and voice teacher, was drawn to the idea of an amphitheater for local productions.
Other Islanders doubted whether anything should be done at all. “Leave it as it is,” said Anne Lise Vernier, a 30-year Island resident. “First they robbed us with the mausoleum to FDR that no Islanders go to, only tourists. Now they want to destroy this place… It is the only real nature that is left.”
Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judy Berdy questioned whether any of the proposals went far enough to draw residents and visitors to the park. “If you’re going to put in a few little things like this, they’re not going to go there,” predicted Berdy. “If you want to get people, you need something really exciting. People want an attraction. We have a beautiful Lighthouse park, and no one is there. I don’t want Coney Island, but right now all it is is a pass-through to go to Four Freedoms. These plans are sweet and nice, but they’re not going to attract people.”
The Next Step
Miltimore emphasized that the firm is still very much interested in community feedback. The evening’s slideshow presentation can be downloaded from southpointcommunityplan.com, and comments can be submitted online.
The next public meeting is scheduled for December 13, when the group will present a rough draft of the final proposal for comment. A finished plan is to be delivered to RIOC in February.