Roosevelt Island News

UPDATE: What the hell’s going on with Blackwell House?

What the hell’s going on with Blackwell House? The question popped into my head last week when I saw the historic landmark under a protective wrap again.

By David Stone

UPDATE, July 1st, 2020: We’ve learned from a reliable source that Blackwell House finally passed its final Dept. of Buildings inspection in June, and will open as soon as conditions permit.

End of Update

In a Roosevelt Islander blog post, they asked, “… at what point will the condition of Blackwell House be such that it can be used for some purpose other than just staring at it?”

Getting your mind around the mess RIOC’s made of this potentially gorgeous historic landmark, you need to know that that quote is from April, 2011.

RIOC had just agreed on a usage plan with the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

No kidding.

What the hell's going on with Blackwell House
In August, a RIOC spokesperson said to expect a ribbon-cutting for reopening Blackwell House soon. Instead, two months later, yet another repair phase is underway.

What the hell’s going on with Blackwell House? Intolerable dithering.

RIOC president Susan Rosenthal stakes her claim to success on infrastructure, and in June, 2017, her board approved $1,465 million for restoration of Blackwell House. The award went to AFL Construction.

A year later it was a mess and 50% more expensive.

Years of incompetent management haunt at September, 2018, Board Meeting

At that meeting, Stephen Noone, Assistant Vice President for Capital Planning, requested an increase $750,000. Above and beyond $1.465 million already awarded, ongoing repair work at Blackwell House demanded it.

Noone, since dismissed by RIOC, cited damages undiscovered until repair work started. This left the board little choice, and they approved the expense.

Noone said that, after opening up the building’s foundation, they found voids as well as no waterproofing.

Waterproofing, board members Kraut and Shinozaki noted, had been contracted and paid for under an agreement with a prior administration.

Not just that, Shinozaki said, RIOC also paid a consultant to oversee the work and verify that it was done properly.

It was, as Noone discovered, never done at all.

What the hell’s going on at Blackwell House, today?

Two years and $2.4 million later, who the hell knows?

At September’s RIOC board meeting, Rosenthal said “Blackwell House is not ready,” adding that Fire Department and Department of Building inspections were needed.

She did not offer details, and that made the wraparound of Blackwell House, weeks later, a surprise.

What the hell’s going on with Blackwell House? is no more important a question than Will we ever get the full story?

Millions of dollars invested with nothing to show for it, not even a competent explanation.

3 replies »

  1. I worked the RiOC staff last spring. The house is complete. I have been in the house which is completely furnished down to curtains and shades. The rooms are complete. Over 35 pieces of art (many from the RIHS archives) have been reproduced, and professionally hung.
    The only answer I get from RIOC is that they are waiting for permits.

    After RIOC took the house back from a renter in 1999, nothing has happened in 20 years to open the building to the public.

    It is lovely inside and I have no idea of what the problems are. The RIHS has only been offered a small shared office on the second floor so we will keep our office and archives in the Octagon.

    I am asked daily about the house…….I have no answer.

    Juditth Berdy

    • Didn’t they say it needed painting, then they’re put up that ugly fence and started working on the roof? That was after they set a tentative opening for September. You have to wonder what they’re hiding. Gotta be something.

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