Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Will Freedom From Mildew Be Included In Proposed Louis Kahn/FDR Memorial Four Freedoms Park? Sponsor A Tree and Obstruct Empire State Building View



Serious questions need to be asked and answered concerning the qualifications and competency of the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute's (FERI) ability to finance, develop and manage the proposed FDR Memorial Four Freedoms Park at Southpoint Park for which they are seeking "conditional site control" at the September 11 RIOC Board of Directors meeting. Based upon the decrepit condition of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park, NY of which FERI is the non-profit funding arm the answer, at least according to this NY Times op-ed article is a gigantic NO. According to the NY Times article titled Freedom From Mildew:
THE Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park, N.Y., the nation’s first presidential library, is literally falling apart. The roof leaks, the basement floods, asbestos is flaking from old steam pipes, an ancient electrical system could send the whole place up in smoke. This sorry situation is an insult to the person the library and museum honor: the founder of the New Deal, the greatest investment in our nation’s modern development.
Do RIOC directors, who must exercise fiduciary responsibilities and comply with the NY State Public Authorities Act in the disposition of real property on Roosevelt Island, reasonably believe that handing over site control to FERI is in the best interest of Roosevelt Island over all other alternatives for Southpoint Park including those not yet explored? Or does the Public Authorities Act only apply on Roosevelt Island when it concerns vacant Main Street retail space?

One RIOC director explained to me that it is only a "conditional" and "non-conclusive" site control designation. But what does that really mean? We can reasonably expect FERI to exploit any affirmative vote on site control by RIOC Directors for the Kahn/FDR memorial as support by the community for the project even if that was not the intent of their vote. Also, what impact will such designation have on any future possible landscape competition to find the most appropriate 21st century design for that site? Assume, for argument sake, that the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art proposes to develop an outdoor sculpture park at the southern tip of Southpoint and has the means to finance it. If "conditional" site control is now given to FERI, would that preclude even the possibility of exploring such an option in the future. I don't know the answer but I hope the RIOC directors ask a lot questions and do not settle for the historical, unchallenged, vague dribble in response.

The written FERI presentation submitted to the RIOC Board has some interesting new information and is embedded below.
  • The estimated cost of construction has again increased from the previous $40 million to $45 million (Page 3) and the estimated construction time for just the Kahn/FDR memorial is 36 months (Page 4) during which time the park will obviously be closed and unavailable for use by residents and visitors alike.
  • FERI projects raising $7.5 million from sponsorship donors purchasing individual trees (Page 5). I wonder how they will value the purchase price for individual trees that block views of the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, United Nation and the waterfront? The more prestigious and beautiful view blocked, the higher the cost?
  • The proposed site has been deliberately left vacant by RIOC, (or NYC and State) and is considered to be an in-kind contribution. (Page 5)
  • Funds will be raised in stages as construction progresses instead of construction not starting until and unless all funds are raised and in the Bank. (Exhibits) What happens if construction starts, that portion of Southpoint Park in closed and financing for the next stage is not available? The answer of course is that Roosevelt Island residents and other users of the park are screwed. Do the RIOC Directors care about that?



Read this document on Scribd: FERI 9/11 RIOC Board Presentation

For comparison purposes below are images of FDR Memorial in Washington DC. This National Parks Service memorial has nothing to do with FERI. Can anyone serious deny that the Washington DC Roosevelt memorial truly honors FDR and all that he stood for while the FDR memorial proposed by FERI for Roosevelt Island does nothing more than pay tribute to it's designer Louis Kahn and his worshipers.

Image of FDR Memorial from Visiting DC

Image of FDR Memorial Bread Line from DC Traveller

Below is RIOC President Steve Shane's explanation as to what "conditional designation" for site control means.
Standard to ask for Conditional Designation in all development projects on the Island, prior to the Developer's investing in developing final plans, undertaking environmental studies for permits and licenses and committing to the expenditure of sums considerably larger than "development" or "planning" , ordering long lead items, an assurance of willingness to go along, subject to further review and approval as the process gets farther down the line towards finalization. Here, the developer (FERI")is prepared to assume the risk to spend the money on lawyers, environmental consultants, etc. to go through the combined DEC and Coast Guard review as it affects the shoreline, order the stone from the quarry which has a lead time of 1+ year, etc., a considerable undertaking. If the Board is unalterably opposed, the Project will not proceed. If a conditional designation is given, it will require the Developer to enter into a standard agreement which only indicates the Corporattion's preliminary approval of concept, requires the Developer to take the necessary permitting and application steps and to return to the Board with such matters in hand with a definitive financing and scheduling plan. Usually, there are specific time milestones attached, subject, of course, to delays incurred for reasons beyond the reasonable control of the Developer. Reimbursement of RIOC's expenses incurred in the review and permitting process is also to be undertaken as SEQRA will require public hearings and RIOC's own consultants to review submissions and applications. Sort of a scoping and molding process to move down the path to see where it leads without commitment to go all the way until all is revealed. Similar requests and conditional designations were sought and given for the Octagon and Southtown developments. Simply put, it is not unreasonable to seek some assurance of preliminary willingness to entertain the proposal before risking millions of dollars on development.
Does that help explain what conditional site control entails?

UPDATE - 4:20 PM- I sent the following inquiry to RIOC President Steve Shane:
Here's another harangue on Kahn/FDR memorial prior to 9/11 Board meeting.

Could you clarify what obligations and restrictions are placed on RIOC if"conditional" site control is given to FERI?

For instance, the day after conditional site control is acquired by FERI and until any time prior to a formalized binding agreement between FERI and RIOC for the development of the Kahn designed memorial, can some other entity develop a park facility on the same grounds without the participation of FERI. As an example, assume a proposal for a renewable energy park and museum is presented to RIOC that fully complies with the GDP. Does site control by FERI preclude that proposal from being accepted by RIOC?
Mr. Shane's response could not have been more clear:
Yes, until FERI fails to meet its contractual obligations, the site is designated for FERI to develop in accordance with the plans and to meet the tasks and milestones established in the agreement. The design of the Memorial is an integral part of the conditional designation, not subject to further debate. It's up or down now. Really unfair to ask any developer to proceed to lay out hundreds of thousands or a few million during development for lawyers, environmental studies and applications, granite, etc. and then jerk the rug out from under them. Especially, in a non commercial undertaking.
So there you have it. A yes vote by the RIOC Board of Directors effectively gives FERI control over the site for the Kahn?FDR boondoggle.

At the last RIRA meeting there was a discussion about having certain referendum items on the ballot for election day. The large turnout due to the Presidential election presents a great opportunity to finally get a valid sample of Roosevelt island opinion on the Kahn/FDR memorial. As an alternative to voting no on FERI site control, perhaps the vote could be postponed until after such a referendum. I would hope that the fact that FERI may not get as good a deal on cement (page 2 of vanden Heuvel letter in FERI 9/11 presentation to RIOC Board) is not as important as the views of Roosevelt Island residents on this issue.

23 comments :

Anonymous said...

Apparently end of sale on cement and granite WAS the most important. The vote went along political line - this beautiful island is just a fodder and cash register for 3rd rate politicians, political deadwood, and connected crooks. Sheeple shlep around. Our own kookoo NEST..

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