Monday, February 2, 2009

Senator Serrano Named Chair Of NY Senate Parks Committee - Please Use $4 Million For Kahn/FDR Memorial Boondoggle for Another NYC Neighborhood Park!

Image of Kahn/FDR Memorial Sculpture room from Village Voice's Runnin Scared

Roosevelt Island's NY State Senator, Jose Serrano, who also represents the South and West Bronx, Yorkville and East Harlem, has been named Chair of the Senate's Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee. Senator Serrano blogs at Room 8:
... I’m freshly seated as Chair of the Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee, it’s no wonder I stand in strong opposition to proposed budget cuts that affect, well, all of the above.

... On February 3rd, Assemblymember Steve Englebright and I will convene a Joint Committee Meeting to discuss the proposed budget cuts. In the spirit of legislative reform, we are counting on bipartisan engagement and participation, and – perhaps for the first time in Albany history – soliciting YouTube commentary from organizations across the state. We want to make sure that even if you can’t make the trip to Albany – though carpooling is available! – that your voice will be heard.
I hope that Senator Serrano uses his Chair position on the Committee to re-examine and stop the allocation of $4 million in NY State Taxpayer funds for the Kahn/FDR Memorial boondoggle proposed for Southpoint Park on Roosevelt Island. The reasons for not providing NY State, as well as City funds, for the Kahn/FDR Memorial are well presented in the statement below from former Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) President Matt Katz in a letter published in edited form to the NY Times as a response to this article.
Like so many others, Gregory Beyer’s article, “As No. 44 Arrives, a Park for No. 32?” fails to account for the 12,000 residents of Roosevelt Island when considering the FDR Memorial. Neither the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI) nor our local politicians have queried these prime users of the Island’s parkland during the thirty-six years this project has hung fire. It required my organization, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) to conduct an independent survey, concluding that at least half of the respondents were opposed to this project. Make no mistake; we are uniform in our wish to honor our island’s namesake. Our objections are aesthetic; the incredible 360° views will be compromised, with our dwindling green space sacrificed to granite and stone. In addition, this project has expanded from a $15 million dollar price tag twenty years ago, to $40 million last year, to the $45 million quoted by Mr. Beyer.

When I, as RIRA president, debated FERI’s spokesman, Ambassador vanden Heuvel, a year ago, he assured a community town meeting audience that FERI would walk away should they prove unable to raise the necessary funds within four to five months. They have not done so. We now understand that approximately $16.5 million has been pledged, not raised; some 35-40% of the total required, necessitating a phased construction plan while the additional funds are found.

In a time of fiscal austerity, why have the government bureaucrats who control the site not considered a more modest, more environment-friendly alternative, designed by a twenty-first century landscape architect rather than a celebrity from fifty years ago? This FDR Memorial is only one part of a thirteen-acre Southpoint Park. The other ten acres were conceived with the participation of Roosevelt Island residents and activists as well as professional park planners. I believe that approach is what is missing in this misbegotten and long-overdue acknowledgement of “No. 32.”
This $4 million could be put to much better use in other neighborhood parks such as McCombs Dam, Mullaley and Tiffany Parks in the Bronx, the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Governors Island, Williamsburg's East River Park, or any of a whole host of parks that are wanted and needed by their respective communities. The Kahn/FDR Memorial is neither wanted nor needed on Roosevelt Island and the political process employed to develop the Memorial may be a violation of the State's Public Authorities Act. Senator Serrano, if you can help re-allocate the $4 million away from the Kahn/FDR Memorial to a park in another neighborhood, you will be doing that neighborhood as well as Roosevelt Island a great public service.