Cuomo Includes Payment Owed by Contract

Reality Check: Roosevelt Island Gets Nothing New in State Budget

Updated 36 weeks ago David Stone
RIOC negotiated a $25 million deal for giving up land to build Cornell Tech. Will they ever really see the money?
RIOC negotiated a $25 million deal for giving up land to build Cornell Tech. Will they ever really see the money?
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

It started with Rebecca Seawright, the Democratic State Assembly Member for Roosevelt Island: “I am happy to secure this funding for my Roosevelt Island constituents,” said Seawright in a press release, although she did no such thing. But that's a politician's puff, right? Then, RIOC got absolutely silly about it.

RIOC capital projects boosted $25M by NYS blared a Facebook-blue headline in a press release from Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson.

"With last Friday’s passage of the State of New York’s FY 2018 State Budget, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation will receive a $25 million payment to supplement its existing capital infrastructure improvement program," he continued.

There are a couple of problems with these claims.

First, the $25 million Seawright and RIOC are waving around, celebrating their big win, is nothing more than money owed Roosevelt Island as part of multi-agency agreement. Five years ago, RIOC surrendered land needed for construction of Cornell Tech. It was seen then as the best opportunity for the Island to gain financially from the project.

It was discussed at RIOC Board Meetings, at the Residents Association Common Council, in the Main Street WIRE and with the Community Coalition, then in its infancy but bubbling with ideas.

RIOC President Charlene Indelicato scored a great deal, $1 million a year for 50 years. New York State agreed to make a full advance payment with a calculated amount to cover the entire period, due by the end of 2018.

That payment was pegged at $25 million. So, what's in the budget is only what the State agreed to pay, years ago, nothing more, nothing less.

Funny thing is, nobody's giving credit where its due - to Charlene Indelicato and the Board that worked on and approved the deal. Most of those Board Members still serve Roosevelt Island.

Two "Buyer Beware" Concerns

Least of the two is that the money is hooked into infrastructure improvements. As we've written earlier, that's not what the Board approved, but because it's what Indelicato signed off on in a Memo of Understanding, we seem to be stuck with it.

And, well, $25 million in infrastructure after decades of neglect isn't a bad idea. Why fight?

What should concern Roosevelt Islanders, to coach it in semi-delicate terms, is Governor Cuomo's track record for not paying bills when he, apparently, doesn't feel like it or on a political whim.

Commenting on money in the same budget for the New York City Housing Authority, Mayor Bill di Blasio told Josh Robin in his Inside City Hall radio program, "...what’s clear about it is he now is responsible for half-a-billion dollars that is owed to the City – the new money in the budget and the previous money in the 2015 and 2017 budgets that never came to the city."

That is, Cuomo never paid off hundreds of millions promised in the State budget, going all the way back to 2015. And the City has no idea whether that will ever be paid and, consequently, no certainty that the new money will show up either.

Why so confident, RIOC?

RIOC and Seawright need to be reminded that Cuomo skipped out on $1 million owed RIOC last year as part of the same agreement.

The bottom line is, there's no guarantee that Roosevelt Island will see all or any of this money, this year or next. But Cuomo and supporters are chalking up political points, taking credit for others' achievements.

Our public Board Members, David Kraut, Margie Smith, Michael Shinozaki, Howard Polivy and Fay Christian deserve a thank you pat on the back. (Katherine Grimm was also on the Board at the time the deal was negotiated.) They've done their part in securing a meaningful chunk of change for Roosevelt Island. Now, it's up to Cuomo and his team on Roosevelt Island to make it happen.

The day that $25 million check arrives, I'm going to call Dobbs Ferry and thank Charlene Indelicato. I hope to make that call, this year, but I honestly doubt it will happen. More likely, a drip, drip, drip over several years, Cuomo style.

Note: RIOC's developed a mantra of claiming in every press release that Roosevelt island "is home to more than 14,000 residents." That's not true, and those claims have misled businesses into higher than realistic expectations. We'll be covering this in the next day or so.

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