RIOC’s Plan for Southpoint Park Hits Opposition

Worries about habitat destruction, developer overreach and more…

RIOC’s plans for Southpoint Park take a major first step next year, according to a presentation made to its board in October. The activity involves, not just restoring, but improving East River access, spurred by Superstorm Sandy’s damages. Army Corps of Engineers and other approvals are pending. But opponents are venting anger over what looks like another RIOC stealth operation.

RIOC Southpoint Park Project
Cover page shows an improved section of the Park, but something’s missing… These changes fulfill a years long wish for RIOC. The popular cat sanctuary is gone, defying residents’ preferences.

Where to find the bigger picture, fresh daily: Roosevelt Island News

When the always shaky plan to “enhance” Southpoint took shape, three and a half years ago, RIOC looked for resident input.

But why do anything at all?

Southpoint was barely five years old. Locals loved it. Utilitarian restrooms and uncomfortable seating brought the only complaints, but those were few. And easy to fix.

RIOC’s then “acting” president Susan Rosenthal cited “the future development of the Park and Ruins” The Renwick designed Smallpox Hospital, the “Ruins,” are a money sinkhole for which no saving plan exists.

“We can’t wait,” she said, referring to the Ruins.

But wait we have. And will.

Three and a half years later, Rosenthal’s lost the “acting,” but the Ruins are still without a plan.

Smallpox Hospital Ruins, RIOC Southpoint Park
Millions spent on saving the Ruins, but no future has been defined. Maybe it’ll just soak up resources until someone admits futility and tears it down. The space — and the money — could be better used.

RIOC’s Plan for Southpoint Park Ends at the water’s edge.

Langan’s Shoreline Restoration Project is just that, a plan that begins and ends at the water’s edge.

It will greatly increase riverside access, and it replaces aging riprap with manageable seawall protections. Pathways made with durable materials curl along natural contours.

But this first step leaves the ugly restrooms as ugly as ever. The seating may not be ADA compliant.

More concerning is an apparent commitment to bringing Brooklyn Bridge Park to Roosevelt Island. That model came up several times in Langan’s presentation, but nothing makes clear that it’s a good fit here.

Roosevelt Island’s never been generic.

To be fair, making the shoreline accessible has no relationship with restrooms, but the plan radically changes the park’s character. And it does so without answering any of the wishes residents had for it.

The ecosystems will be completely destroyed if the proposed development plan by RIOC is implemented.

The loss of flora and fauna that include wildlife, bird species (about 90% of bird species rely on insects as food), insects (Pollinators are essential, the vital services they provide are already at risk from habitat loss and pesticide usage), native plants and trees will be forever lost for the current and future generations if the proposed plan by RIOC will be implemented.

Rossana Ceruzzi
Executive Director, Wildlife Freedom Foundation

The illustration above is nothing like the much loved park we’ve enjoyed since 2011, and who needs a scenic view of the Ravenswood power plant, anyway?

Especially at the expense of the cat sanctuary residents petitioned to save, fighting off RIOC, just last year, and consequential damages to the natural environment…

What’s in a name change?

What started as Southpoint Park or just Southpoint, reclaimed from a ruined landscape, evolved suddenly. When RIOC recruited Fitzgerald and Halliday to shape the park’s future, it got a new name: Southpoint Open Space.

No reason given.

Today, RIOC’s given it an ungainly bastardization: Southpoint Open Space Park. Who says you can’t please everybody?

But what lags in all the plans so far, besides doing nothing to save and make usable the Smallpox Hospital, is the things residents asked for.

RIOC Southpoint Park, Sans Residents

As we reported in October, 2016 as Fitzgerald and Halliday wrapped up…

One vocal group hopes to keep Southpoint Park pristine as it is now, without commercial intrusion. Another, equally vocal, believes we miss out on revenue from tourists on their way to FDR Four Freedoms Park by not putting so much as a small cafe in their way.

Roosevelt Island Daily
Southpoint — Not Too Late To Speak Up

After spending a big chunk of cash on that survey, RIOC seems to have done nothing with the results in the intervening three years, although the shoreline restoration project slants toward tourists, not residents.

Being RIOC, they just might be pulling off their dream for Southpoint Park and saying nothing to limit local protests.

Local protests are rising anyway. As quoted above, Rossana Ceruzzi, leader of the Wildlife Freedom Foundation believes the plan will destroy natural habitats already in place.

An then, there’s this from Lewis Smithingham…

Developers attempt to get rid of green space and an animal sanctuary so they can increase property value.

We may not have heard the last of RIOC’s Southpoint Park Plan.

Don’t miss the next story…

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16 Comments

  1. More business as usual in the least democratic place in America…

    1. Author

      It’s been better at times in the past when there was a more cohesive community presence. The Common Council is a joke, these days, but there were times when it was a powerhouse. Long story I might write about someday. Our problem, I think, is aged out leadership with no one waiting in the wings, a problem pointed out to me as it happened by, of all people, RIOC’s then president Steve Shane.

      Thanks.

  2. Thank you David for your article. The proposed plan will have a devastating impact on the local floral and fauna in the park and river. I highly value this green space, and feel it is an escape from the concrete jungle. it is very upsetting that corporate motives are being put above the wishes of the community.

    1. Author

      Jean, I think you’re exactly right. There never was a good reason to “enhance” Southpoint. It was great as soon as they opened it up. RIOC’s leaders then used old stones from the burned out City Hospital to build the reinforcing walls and opened the trail to the the Smallpox hospital and Four Freedoms. They were very proud of it. Five years later, they used the Smallpox hospital as a reason for “enhancing” the park, but no plans whatsoever have been made to do anything about, just to spend money for the sake of spending money. The rest is so much smoke.

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Restoring the seawall has nothing to do with the annihilation of the ecosystems established along the shorelines.
    The ecosystems will be completely destroyed if the proposed development plan by RIOC is implemented.
    The loss of flora and fauna that include wildlife, bird species (about 90% of bird species rely on insects as food), insects (Pollinators are essential, the vital services they provide are already at risk from habitat loss and pesticide usage), native plants and trees will be forever lost for the current and future generations if the proposed plan by RIOC will be implemented.

    Let’s save our “Treasure chest” from development. Or it will be lost. Forever!
    The thought per se causes grief and torment…
    Let’s protect and preserve our little piece of sensitive habitats for wildlife and plants. And for us.

    The Wildlife Freedom Foundation

    1. Author

      Yes, there is more here than shoreline restoration, and it isn’t consistent with anything residents asked for in the planning. It just comes out looking like RIOC wants to invest in changing Southpoint to make it more like Brooklyn Bridge Park.

  4. This is like a plot from an 80’s movie. Developers attempt to get ride of greenspace and an animal sanctuary so they can increase property value. Where is the misfit bunch of kids that will save us!? But seriously, please don’t turn Roosevelt island into battery Park city

    1. Author

      You’re right in that there is nothing original, inspired or inspiring in the their plans. More importantly, there are no residents. It’s all RIOC 360.

      1. The ecosystems established along the shorelines will be totally destroyed if the proposed development plan by RIOC is implemented.

        The loss of bird species (about 90% of bird species rely on insects as food), insects, pollinators are essential and the services they provide, which are already at risk from habitat loss, pesticide usage etc., native plants and trees will be diminished or lost, and a critical link to the natural world also lost for the current and future generations. Essentially, we will face a complete annihilation of the environment if the proposed development plan by RIOC will be implemented.

        If the proposed development plan by RIOC will be implemented, our little “Treasure chest” will be lost, Forever! We must conserve these species and protect their habitats.
        Protections of our flora and fauna and natural places are at risk. We monitor development proposals and advocate to ensure that our precious natural habitats, trees, plants and wildlife are protected and safe.

        The Wildlife Freedom Foundation

  5. The ecosystems established along the shorelines will be totally destroyed if the proposed development plan by RIOC is implemented.

    The loss of bird species (about 90% of bird species rely on insects as food), insects, pollinators are essential and the services they provide, which are already at risk from habitat loss, pesticide usage etc., native plants and trees will be diminished or lost, and a critical link to the natural world also lost for the current and future generations. Essentially, we will face a complete annihilation of the environment if the proposed development plan by RIOC will be implemented.

    If the proposed development plan by RIOC will be implemented, our little “Treasure chest” will be lost, Forever! We must conserve these species and protect their habitats.
    Protections of our flora and fauna and natural places are at risk. We monitor development proposals and advocate to ensure that our precious natural habitats, trees, plants and wildlife are protected and safe.

    The Wildlife Freedom Foundation

  6. The ecosystems established along the shorelines will be totally destroyed if the proposed development plan by RIOC is implemented.

    The loss of bird species (about 90% of bird species rely on insects as food), insects, pollinators are essential and the services they provide, which are already at risk from habitat loss, pesticide usage etc., native plants and trees will be diminished or lost, and a critical link to the natural world also lost for the current and future generations. Essentially, we will face a complete annihilation of the environment if the proposed development plan by RIOC will be implemented.

    If the proposed development plan by RIOC will be implemented, our little “Treasure chest” will be lost, Forever! We must conserve these species and protect their habitats.
    Protections of our flora and fauna and natural places are at risk. We monitor development proposals and advocate to ensure that our precious natural habitats, trees, plants and wildlife are protected and safe.

    The Wildlife Freedom Foundation

  7. Why are your articles strewn with so many adverts?

  8. Awesone article. This captures the bewildered reaction of residents to the constant commercialization of the few nice parts of Roosevelt Island. The recently planted parks are artificial and hardly ever used. Now, they make a better instagram posts than the restful wild places they were originally. Bike lanes galore, paint the bridge excessively, police are 1:5 ratio of Manhattan vs RI, abbreviated budgets for the kids and adolencents needs. Srsly, a younger generation will need to take control of RIOC in order to align the development and administration with the residents’ interests.

    Like the Once-ler constantly improving the Lorax, when they’ve finally chopped down the last tree, theyll realize the money was all dirty paper and no one was better off.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your observations. It’s been a long story here and a good one until about 10 years ago, and sorry to say, it was a gang of Roosevelt Islanders, known as the Maple Tree Group, that undermined community cohesiveness, paving the way for what followed.

      I’ll take issue only with your “a younger generation will need to take control of RIOC…” A younger generation did when Elliott Spitzer gave them an opening. True, they weren’t all young, but at whatever age, they blew it and made of RIOC’s governing board a virtual rubber stamp for Governor Cuomo’s controlling vision. You see that reflected in the Southpoint plan for turning it into Brooklyn Bridge Park. As I’ve said many times, we need new unifying community leadership, but nothing’s happening that I can see.

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