Book clubs, parent groups, and other Islanders looking for a quiet place to meet now have a new option. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) announced on February 8 that it would offer free community space to Roosevelt Island groups at the Cultural Center, located at 548 Main Street.
New coordinators of the Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network Cecilia Chen and Sangeeta Joseph say the new program will be a welcome addition for Island families. “We’re very excited about the community space pilot program and that our members will finally have a convenient space for events and activities, such as crafts, workshops, and exercise,” says Chen.
According to RIOC President Susan Rosenthal, the new program is a test for what she hopes will become a permanent public space located in the newly renovated Sportspark facility, just south of the Tram station. “My vision is that it’s going to be on the second floor of the Sportspark,” says Rosenthal. “It’s a much nicer space. This [program] in the Cultural Center is temporary for that reason.”
The Cultural Center
For now, there will be two rooms in the Cultural Center available to the public on a first-come-first-served basis. One is intended as a common area. “We’ll probably drag some chairs in and a couch. We just have to figure it out,” Rosenthal says of the space. The other room currently has a table and chairs, and can be reserved for meetings.
Both rooms will be available from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and on Friday. To reserve the rooms, Islanders must not be affiliated with a for-profit or nonprofit corporation. According to RIOC, the purpose of the program is to give the general public access to community space for activities such as group study sessions and book clubs; as well as quiet space for individuals to relax, read, or study – basically many of the things Islanders used to do at Trellis, and then at Main Street Sweets, before they closed.
Rosenthal says RIOC also plans to hire a new director of Parks and Recreation to manage the Island’s public spaces and recreational services. “Under that umbrella will be community relations, Sportspark, and all of the public spaces. I am very excited about that.”
She believes that starting this program now, at the Cultural Center, will be helpful in informing next steps. “I see it as giving us two ideas. Number one, how much interest there is. Number two, what kinds of uses does the community want in this kind of open public space.”
As for those next steps, Rosenthal has her eyes set on Sportspark, which is scheduled to reopen from a six-month renovation project by March 1, according to a recent RIOC announcement.
“The second floor space itself I am excited about – especially with our new roof and the skylights,” says Rosenthal. Currently, the space needs some work, and Rosenthal is hoping to use the data from the Cultural Center pilot program to ascertain how to divide the space, and what kind of furniture or equipment to outfit it with. “It’s a great space. We’ve had our architectural consultant look at it. We’ve talked about dividing it into two open spaces, one to sit and schmooze, and one for meetings. Maybe there’s enough room for a zumba classroom or something like that.”
Previously, the Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association, known as RIVAA, had reserved much of the space in question. “We are talking to RIVAA about a public space for artists in residence,” says Rosenthal. “It keeps the concept of this as an artist’s Island alive. We’ve actually reviewed some ideas about artists in residence.”
How to Reserve the Space
According to RIOC community relations specialist Erica Spencer-EL, reservations will be “first come, first served” and people will have to sign in when they arrive. She also said that, unlike the paid permitting process RIOC requires for its other public facilities, the newly opened space in the Cultural Center does not require insurance and is only for Island residents’ use.
Rosenthal emphasizes however, that nothing is carved in stone. “It’s fluid. Things improve as you use them.”
As for why RIOC’s other public spaces, including the Island’s sports fields, other rooms in the Cultural Center, and the Good Shepherd community center, all require a paid permit, Rosenthal explains, “These public facility spaces require control, cleaning, maintenance, and some kind of reasonable sharing. Therefore we need to have staff to organize it. We didn’t want a situation where people sign up, and then don’t show up. So we have a fee. If I pay the trainer, I am going to my gym.”
Rosenthal points out that, while residents may not have to pay to use the Cultural Center space during these new hours, RIOC does. “We did have to hire two security guards. It’s costing extra money to do this.”