Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Encampment Arrives on Roosevelt Island

The Weblicist of Manhattan visited The Encampment on Roosevelt Island and came back with some stunning images including the one above. The photo blogger describes the experience as follows:

I took the Roosevelt Island Tram over to see The Encampment By Thom Sokoloski. It was quite fascinating. He had set up 100 Civil War Canvas Tents on the Southpoint of the island next to the old asylum. They were illuminated from within and each one told a different story about the people who had been interned in the Island Hospital between 1828 and 1955.
The New York Times describes the difficulties and challenges in getting The Encampment finished.
In the 80-degree weather of yesterday morning, a dozen volunteers showed up to help; most encountered a locked gate. Though Mr. Sokoloski spent months assembling the proper permits, security had been a constant issue: the site, part of what will become Southpoint Park, is usually closed to the public. Homeland Security officials were on high alert because of the United Nations General Assembly meeting just across the East River, and the police threatened to shut things down because of a miscommunication.

By noon only a dozen tents had been set up, and few were filled. Mr. Sokoloski’s partners, Jenny-Anne McCowan, a choreographer and outreach coordinator, and John McDowell, a composer, busied themselves marshaling the volunteers.

Even the construction supervisors — four Canadian military re-enactors, with extensive experience in putting up tents — were sweating. The exhibition, part of the annual Openhousenewyork weekend, was several hours behind schedule.

But Mr. Sokoloski, a Toronto-based artist who seems younger than his 57 years, remained calm. A former theater director (he worked at La MaMa in the 1980s) and location scout for movies, he is adept at making big projects work, like an opera he staged in Toronto’s main train station in 1992.

“It’s one thing after another, but you get used to it,” Mr. Sokoloski said. “You just keep going till the last moment, because who knows what will happen tomorrow?”
Of course, The NY Times was wrong in stating that Roosevelt Island's Southpoint Park "is usually closed to the public". In fact, Southpoint Park is usually open to the public unless there is some sort of security advisory in effect.
But the NYT does have a nice slide show of the Encampment including the tent image below.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Town Hall Meeting on Future of Roosevelt Island Tram

The Main Street Wire (PDF File) has the goods on the Town Hall Meeting regarding the future of the Roosevelt Island Tram. According to the Wire:

The good news is that RIOC has all the money it needs to take any of four possible paths for the future of the system. There’s a State budget allocation; there is money already set aside for track rope replacement; and there is expected or available general income in RIOC’s cash stream.
The bad news is that the most likely solutions will involve at least six months of downtime, possibly seven, unless RIOC engages in some hyperspending to gain a little time by imposing a high-intensity work schedule.
One other tidbit of good news: None of this is likely to result in Tramway outages for at least a year.
More later.
Image is from Wired New York.

Weekend Waterfront Video for Roosevelt Island

Today is Friday, the weekend is approaching so it's time for the Roosevelt Island Weekend Waterfront Music Video.
If Roosevelt Island had a waterfront bar there might be a girl named Brandy - a fine girl who serves the sailors whiskey and wine.
Here is the You Tube link to the video above. Waterfront images are from the Pacific Northwest.
Here is a You Tube link to a performance by Looking Glass of Brandy.

History of East River Surrounding Roosevelt Island

The April 7, 2007 issue of the Main Street Wire had a fascinating article concerning the history of shipping on the East River particularly the section just north of Roosevelt Island (formerly Blackwell's Island), known as Hell Gate which was:

a death trap for shipping – so shallow that tidal currents ran at high speeds and rocks projecting up from the bottom could destroy any ship not properly piloted. In one of the great engineering projects of the 19th Century, rocks were removed and the bottom of the channel literally blown out.
As to the East River:
It roils, boils, tumbles and falls, races north, then south, and sometimes in both directions at once; yet at slack water Hell Gate at Roosevelt Island is as peaceful as a country pond. Sometimes, when you look at it, you think you are out to sea at Montauk Point, rather than on the banks of an inland waterway. As rough as it is today, it is relatively benign compared to 150 years ago. A few cargo ships, ferries, and barges ply its waters without danger. It looks like a part of the sophisticated cityscape around it, just a little rougher. But 150 years ago, it was much different. New York was a port island, and much of its world traffic entered through Long Island Sound and the East River (which is actually a tidal channel), rather than, as it does today, through Lower New York Bay on its way to the ports of Bayonne, Elizabeth, and Newark.
Image is from Main Street Wire which credits "Scribner’s Monthly of November, 1871, and from the July, 1872, issue of The Manufacturer and Builder, a trade publication."

The Encampment Opens Tonight

Via Curbed, The New York Post on The Encampment.

The largest public art project to hit the city since "The Gates" in Central Park will be on display beginning tonight when a field at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island is filled with 100 illuminated canvas tents called "The Encampment."
The Encampment will:
shed light on the island's murky and painful history as home to psychiatric and smallpox wards.
will tell a history of the hundreds and thousands of people . . . who have gone through social, mental, medical and penal confinement on this island," he said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
The fun begins tonight.
The image is from one of the Encampment installations from by Alison Nastasi. Very cool.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Update on Roosevelt Island Tennis Club Inquiry

I just received this follow up message from RIOC President Shane in response to my message to him detailed in this post below.

Mr Shane:

The license is terminable under certain conditions for public purposes.
We cannot merely terminate at our whim. The investment made by the
licensee in developing the business is not to be ignored.
Contrary to your assumption, there is a high level of community
involvement, a report of which will be a part of the RE Committee
presentation this evening. I would also expect that the developing units
of Southtown will be a fertile source of membership for reasons of
proximity and demographics. But, while RIOC participates in the success
of the business by reason of the % clause in the License Agreement, RIOC
does not run the business.

Stephen H. Shane
President & CEO
Roosevelt Island Operating Corp.
More later.
Here is my reply to Mr. Shane:

I was not proposing terminating the license of the tennis club but only pointing out that a meeting in regard to the "Third Modification of the License Agreement between Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation and HCK Recreation, Inc." was scheduled for Thursday October 4. After all, this meeting of the Real Estate committee must be about certain rights and obligations under the license agreement between RIOC and the tennis club or why have it at all. I was merely suggesting that no further or additional rights be bestowed upon the tennis club or obligations assumed by RIOC until other potential recreational, cultural or entertainment uses were explored.
I would think that any such termination, certainly not on what you refer to as a "whim", would only be considered if there was a suitable alternative user providing a compelling public benefit.To my knowledge no such alternative is currently being proposed but that should not mean RIOC enters into an agreement which precludes any such future possibility.
I thank Mr. Shane for entering into this dialogue which, I believe, is of concern to Roosevelt Island residents.

View from Roof of Riverwalk Condo Building on Roosevelt Island

Nice View!

RIOC Responds to Roosevelt Island Tennis Club Inquiry

RIOC President Steve Shane sends the following response to yesterday's post about the RIOC Board of Directors Real Estate Development Advisory subcommittee meeting today concerning the lease for the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club.

Mr Shane writes:

Your blog is misinformed. The present license arrangement extends until
April 30, 2031. Those arrangements were made in December, 1998.
HCK is the predecessor in interest of Roosevelt Island Racquet Club
Why would you presuppose that the Board will act hastily?
Other uses than for public purposes(here recreation purposes) are not
on the table under the GDP, no matter how valuable a piece of property
this may be. RIOC and the community have already been down that road. If
the license were to be terminated other than for public purpose/park
like purposes, substantial "taking" compensation would be owed to the
operator to compensate for the very substantial investment made in the
present enterprise.
Island residents are entitled to a preferrential rate for utilization
of the courts.
Substantial income (more than $250,000 per year) is derived from this
This License arrangement was executed first in 1989. While
theoretically a present disposition, as a terminable license, being
extended on a present facility, we take the position that it does not
require the Public Authorities disposition process. Similarly with the
existing stores on Main Street. Were any substantial modifications of
the use to take placeRFPs, appraisals, etc. would all be required.

Stephen H. Shane
President & CEO
Roosevelt Island Operating Corp.

My response:
Thanks for your response and the information provided. I am out of town and unable to post it today but will post your message in full tomorrow.

However, I do not think that this post or the "blog is misinformed". I did not make any factual statements other than the existence of the Real Estate committee meeting and my belief that HCK Recreation is the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club, which for purposes of the post, is clearly accurate since as you state they are the predecessor in interest to the current tennis club. Also, data provided here clearly indicate that HCK does business as Roosevelt Island Rackett Club.I do not think my use of the word "Racquet" rather than "Rackett" rises to the level of the blog being misinformed in this context though I admit it may fail the particularities of identifying the proper legal entity involved.

The use of the term "hastily" is not a matter of informed or uninformed but merely a hope that the board will at least consider other options and be fully informed themselves prior to making any decision. No disrespect was meant by the use of "hastily". Though I could be wrong, your message appears to suggest that other alternatives to the current tennis club occupants have not or cannot even be considered.

As to your point regarding termination of the license and a "substantial taking " compensation that would be owed in that event - I will leave it to the real estate lawyers to interpret the applicable law. I would question however, given today's commercial real estate market if $250,000 in annual revenue is indeed substantial or even market rate income.

Also, I seem to recall, but am not positive, being told by someone from a previous RIOC administration that the license was terminable under certain conditions. Is that now or was it ever true?
The great think about blogs is that they are self correcting by their readers. I am happy to correct any error that I am responsible for.

Again, thank you for your openness and responses to these issues of concern to Roosevelt Islanders.
I would add that by doing some quick back of the envelope calculations, the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club must occupy (approximately) at least 10,000 sq. ft. If they are paying "more than $250,000 per year" for a license fee as Mr. Shane states, assume $300,000, (there may be some form of percentage fee as well) than they are paying approximately $25-30 per sq. ft. for their premises. That seems on the low end of the current commercial real estate spectrum. At the very least, exploring other potential alternatives seems to be a reasonable option and I fail to see what harm might occur if the RIOC Board takes a course of reasoned deliberation.
Also, as an aside, the "the preferential rate" provided to Roosevelt Islanders for use of the tennis courts is not such a great benefit to Island residents as to forego exploring the potential for other recreational, cultural or entertainment uses
Image is from the Tennis Channel.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

RIOC Real Estate Committee Meeting on Roosevelt Island Tennis Racquet Club Lease

Prior to the Town Hall Meeting on the future of the Roosevelt Island Tram, a meeting of the RIOC Board of Directors Real Estate Development Advisory subcommittee is scheduled to begin at 6 PM. The lone agenda item is listed as the following:


PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that a meeting of the Real Estate Development Advisory Committee (“REDAC”) of the RIOC Board of Directors will be held on Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 6:00 p.m. at the the Good Shepherd Chapel, 543 Main Street, Roosevelt Island, New York. The REDAC will discuss the Third Modification of Lease between Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation and HCK Recreation, Inc.

The Open Meetings Law of the State of New York requires that all public bodies conduct meetings, convened for the purpose of officially conducting public business, in a manner open to attendance by the general public to observe and listen.
I believe that HCK Recreation, Inc. is the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club which has been located under the bubble adjacent to the Tram station and 59th Street Bridge since the early 1990's according to this article from the NY Times. Perhaps it is time for the RIOC Board to not act hastily but consider other potential uses for this site that may provide a different set of recreation, entertainment or cultural options for residents and visitors of Roosevelt Island. After all, how many Roosevelt Island residents actually use this facility. At the very least, given the East River waterfront location of this site and it's potentially large real estate value, I would think that the Public Authorities Act might preclude a long term commitment to this space without a thorough review.
Image is from the Bridge and Tunnel Club.

Reminder of Thursday's Town Hall Meeting on Future of Roosevelt Island Tram

Remember the picture? The late afternoon leading to evening and finally early morning rescue of those Roosevelt Islanders stranded and dangling over the East River on the Tram.
Well, Thursday October 4, is the Town Hall meeting on the future of the Roosevelt Island Tram. Unfortunately, I am out of town and unable to attend this very important meeting concerning one of the transportation lifelines of Roosevelt Island though I am pleased to be able to view the proceedings via RIOC's webcast. If you are able to attend this meeting and care about the future of this Island please go and contribute your thoughts on this issue. If, like me, you are not able to attend try to watch the webcast or follow the issues in the Main Street Wire and communicate your thought to RIOC by email, phone or letter. Also, if anyone in attendance wishes to send in their comments here regarding the presentation on the Tram I would be happy to post them.
As an aside it would be very useful and appropriate in a democracy if Roosevelt Island residents could directly communicate with the members of RIOC's Board of Directors on this and other issues but that will be a subject of a separate post. (Another reason why elections are necessary for Roosevelt Island)
A reader of this hurricane preparedness post asks several question of relevance regarding the extent and/or existence of emergency planning for the Tram

I've been reading and thinking about emergency plans for the Island. Do we really have plans? If we do shouldn't we know what they are? For instance, starting with the Tram, do we have a real plan for rescue? Will the Fire Department be able to use ladders, do we have crane co's on call? Thw airlines will soon be subject to rules on how long they can kep passengers in planes on the tarmac? Do we have rules like that or can people be kept stranded indefinitely? What about flooding? What about the disabled? Can I find out?
Here is the April 19, 2006 statement by NYC's Office of Emergency Management regarding the rescue of the stranded Roosevelt Island Tramway passengers:
The rescue operation on the Roosevelt Island Tram last night was managed as a Unified Command incident, in accordance with the Citywide Incident Management System (CIMS). CIMS dictates that when an incident falls outside of the predetermined incident types, as a high-wire rescue does, the incident will be managed as a Unified Command. Thus last night's operation was managed using a Unified Command between the FDNY, NYPD, and the New York City Office of Emergency Management.

"Not only did the CIMS protocol work and work well, the excellent interagency cooperation was epitomized by the joint Police-Fire rescue operations which took people from both trams to safety. Both agencies deserve enormous credit for safely rescuing 68 people and preventing an accident from becoming a tragedy
Image is from

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Democracy is Coming to ... Roosevelt Island?

A skeptical reader sent in the following comment from this post regarding the upcoming elections, no not elections but plebiscite, for potential gubernatorial nominees to RIOC's Board of Directors scheduled for February 2008.

Has anybody read the article in the NY Times of Tuesday Oct 2nd? The title is Real Judicial Elections. It talks about how phony these elections are because all the appointments are made by and through the majoirity politicians. Isn't this the same as we have coming with a process so phony we have to call it something else? What real chance do we have to elect our own real board? How about NONE?
The September 22, 2007 Main Street Wire editorial page (PDF File) has a much more positive view of the plebiscite as a step towards democracy for Roosevelt Island. The editorial states:
This is, in short, the beginning of democracy for this very special little Island in the midst of one of the greatest cities in the world. Until now, no resident here – other than those selected undemocratically to serve on the RIOC Board – had any meaningful say in policy for Island development, use of parkland, law enforcement (including parking), RIOC personnel standards, government performance, budget... The list goes on, and there has been no meaningful say for residents because we haven't had the power of the ballot box to hold over the heads of those making the key decisions.

Now we will.

But it now becomes extraordinarily important that citizens of good will, with the time and inclination to serve, step forward and become candidates for the six available seats in that February 5 balloting. Precedents are about to be set. Traditions will be created. A fully new direction is likely to emerge. Things will change now, and if you believe you can help them change for the better, consider running. Consider serving your fellow Islanders by resolving that this is something for which you can make time as busy as you may be. The degree of success in this new democratic order of things will determine much about the nature of the path ahead.

Consider running to become a RIRA nominee for the RIOC Board. The ad on page 5 is important, but your decision will be far more important to the future of this very special community
Two contrasting views on the future of Roosevelt Island. The first is realistic based upon Roosevelt Island's past history. The second is hopeful and idealistic based upon a new RIOC and State administration.

Here is the You Tube link to the short animation of Leonard Cohen's Democracy.
For Leonard Cohen fans here is the real thing and You Tube link.

Are Roosevelt Island and Long Island City Comparable New Condo Development Markets?

The foundation has been put in place and the big construction crane just arrived at the new Hudson/Related Riverwalk condo development on Roosevelt Island. Pre-construction sales of the condo units are supposed to begin soon - this month? Where will price points begin? A recent sale during the summer for a 1 bedroom at nearby 455 Main Street on Roosevelt Island was reported to be in the $800's Sq. Ft. range but will the changes brought on by the credit crunch and mortgage crisis impact the new development?
For comparison purposes a look at new condo developments in nearby Long Island City, Roosevelt Island's East River waterfront neighbor, may be useful. Via Curbed, real estate broker and blogger A Fine Blog reports on several new condo developments that have recently opened their sales office in Long Island City. According to A Fine Blog:

Two new and affordable condos opened under one (on site) roof on Saturday, and the initial returns looked to reinforce the notion that the condo market is still hot, in LIC at least. One Hunters Point and Hunters View Condominiums held their long awaited opening on Saturday...These condos have numerous pluses and minuses. The pluses are prices from the $600's per square foot, terraces, and upscale finishes. The negatives, include ordinary exterior architecture and locations that may be noisy- one hangs over the Hunter's Point train yard, the other over the Pulaski Bridge to Greenpoint. Still, views at One Hunters Point, over the train yard, are South and unobstructed and likely to stay that way for some time...The PowerHouse, although not publicized, is open for business, and if there are no huge price amendments, I can tell you, the project exceeds all of my expectations. The amenities are exceptional, the prices, also from the $600's per foot are great, and the finishes like the all Viking kitchens are the very best (O.K., I'm a sucker for Viking). Also, The Foundry LIC and The Crescent Club (LIC North) are expected to open imminently
The Real Deal on the the Long Island City condo market reports:
In the initial offering, the 177 apartments at the Powerhouse will average in the mid-$700s per square foot, starting from $450,000 for studios. The price point is between those for two other new high-end condos in Long Island City: Arris Lofts, which is farther inland, averaging around $700 a square foot, and Toll Brothers' 5th Street Lofts, which is right near the Powerhouse, averaging $800 a square foot.
The question to be answered is whether Roosevelt Island and Long Island City are comparable new condo development markets or is some other waterfront market such as Dumbo or Williamburg more appropriate?

Zog Soccer Players Unhappy with Roosevelt Island Playing Field Conditions - Update

Received this update from Zog Sports regarding their meeting with RIOC to fix some of the problem conditions at Octagon field that were the subject of this post.

ZogSports had a meeting with the heads of RIOC during which a number of issues and ideas regarding field conditions and possible repairs were discussed. There had been an accidental lack of communication between RIOC and their field staff, resulting in the sprinklers being left on for an extended period of time at Octagon Field. Upon realizing this, RIOC took action and the sprinklers have since been turned off. As the field’s condition has begun to improve, RIOC’s field staff has been working hard to move mud off the field, flatten uneven sections, and rake the field. This has improved the condition of the field immensely and ZogSports thanks RIOC for their dedication to improving these conditions.

ZogSports additionally brought in a field maintenance expert on Wednesday, September 26, who suggested a number of ways to keep the field in good shape for the rest of the season and RIOC has agreed to employ these methods. ZogSports and RIOC have also discussed potentially converting the field to synthetic turf in 2008.
Image is from Honolulu Advertiser and is not yet any field on Roosevelt Island.

Monday, October 1, 2007

What's the Deal with Roosevelt Island's Blackwell House

A reader asks the following question about Roosevelt Island's Blackwell House, one of the few remaining farmhouses in New York dating back to the period of time immediately following the Revolutionary War.

what's the deal w/the Blackwell House renovation? It looks a lot better now that's for sure, and I can't wait for the unsightliness to be over....but then what?

I am hoping that some enterprising NYer is going to turn it into a quaint B&B with an outdoor cafe....ha! Then I wouldn't have to find a sublet to put up my family when they visit because they don't fit in my apartment!
At one time RIOC was looking for a commercial tenant such as an architectural or design firm to lease the space. According to this 1991 article in the NY Times:
Those in the market for unusual office space might want to consider a fresh offering from New York State -- the Blackwell House on Roosevelt Island, a 202-year-old landmark farmhouse built by the family that owned the island for the entire 18th century. The state, through its Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which is responsible for developing the island, says it is looking for a commercial tenant. Likely candidates include an architecture or design firm or not-for-profit organization.
The Roosevelt Island Historical Society currently has control of Blackwell House and has been working together with RIOC to renovate the building. In the June 16, 2007 Main Street Wire RIOC President Steve Shane wrote regarding Blackwell House:
The crews are working. The structural engineer has inspected the newly installed roof joists and approved starting the roofing. Siding will follow. Time extension to account for delays in the contracting process last year will add 60 days for an anticipated completion date of August 30, 2007.
RIOC President Shane reports in the June 30, 2007 Main Street Wire that:
Blackwell House renovation is under a full head of steam and finally looks to be on track.
In the September 22,2007 Main Street Wire RIOC President Shane writes regarding Blackwell House:
Construction continues on pace for a mid-October exterior completion. Interior programming and reconstruction will follow.
I would not count on Blackwell House becoming a bed & breakfast anytime soon so continue to look for that sublet for your visiting family members.

Images are from Forgotten NY Roosevelt Island Street Scenes.

When you Gotta Go - At Home

Roosevelt Islanders have been concerned with the lack of public restrooms on the Island. Here is a story from a new video real estate blogger, IntoTheBox.TV, about luxury private commodes, not toilets but commodes. Roosevelt Islanders are not asking for anything as luxurious as commode for a public restroom - but still it might become a tourist attraction itself!
Via NY Sun and New York Observer The Real Estate.

Help Install The Encampament - Telling Roosevelt Island Stories

Today's NY Sun has an article on preparations for The Encampment, a participatory public art project to be held on October 5-7 at Roosevelt Island's Southpoint Park as part of the Open House New York weekend. The article illustrates Encampment creator Thom Sokoloski's task helping participants:

designing installations that would tell visitors about the island's complicated, and often grim, history.
For example:
A woman named Amanda was further along in conceiving her installation, about a doctor at the lunatic asylum, who was, according to an article in Harper's, the object of affection of two of his female patients. The patients, known as Fanny and Moonshine, expressed their love by leaving the doctor bouquets made of grasses, strips of paper, or rags. Amanda was planning to hang these around the tent, possibly with cards in them telling the women's stories. Mr. Sokoloski nodded. "I like the idea of what those bouquets signify, because it's very primitive and primal, communicating through objects," he said.
For some of the participants in the project, the island's history as a destination for the city's outcast and forgotten probably doesn't seem so far away. A group of patients from Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital & Nursing Facility — which offers long-term care for people with spinal cord injuries or HIV/AIDS, as well as medical care for undocumented immigrants or homeless people — are designing 20 tents.

One patient chose a story about a young man with tuberculosis who jumped to his death off the south point of the island, Ms. McCowan said. When she asked him why he chose that story, he said it reminded him of his own friends who had committed suicide. Another young man with a spinal cord injury decided to use his installation to tell his own story. "He said, ‘I'm still here,'" Mr. Sokoloski recalled.
If you are interested in volunteering to help set up The Encampment installation below are some of the ways you can assist.
Set-up and Strike of the tents:
Friday, October 5th: 8am to 2pm - 9 people
Monday, October 8th: 8am - 2pm - 8 people

For the 3 nights of presentations:
We have 2 shifts per night (6:30pm - 10pm / 10pm - 1:30am) - total of 16 people each night
Roles are as follows: Site supervision, roadway guidance and front of house
If interested please contact Thom Sokoloski.