Collateral Damage on Main Street

RIVAA Gets Icy Cold Shoulder from RIOC & Hudson

Updated 44 weeks ago David Stone
RIVAA welcomed art lovers to "Free Time," last summer.
RIVAA welcomed art lovers to "Free Time," last summer.
Photo courtesy of RIVAA

The Cultural Center shutdown, caused by negligence in dealing with water leaks that allowed extensive mold colonies, got some media attention, but another cultural shutdown has so far escaped notice. Gallery RIVAA’s month long closing was also caused by neglect and has been met with an all too familiar refusal to take responsibility by RIOC.

Many residents will be surprised to learn that RIVAA, the local artists collective, pays rent for space that does not include reliable heating or air-conditioning. It’s done so since RIOC engaged Hudson Related to manage leasing all along Main Street.

Thousands of dollars from the struggling nonprofit flow into Hudson Related’s coffers every month from the Main Street Retail Master Contract. RIOC’s take is roughly $1.6 million annually.

(Payments due RIOC from Hudson Related will be reduced by $50,000 in each of the next three years as a concession for the widely panned Winter Wonderland joint promotion.)

RIOC’s part in collecting rent from RIVAA is troubling for some. Each year, the State agency demands that RIVAA come begging for Public Purpose Funds that the State agency knows will be taken by Hudson and, to some extent, funneled back to RIOC.

In return for its payment to Hudson Related and RIOC, RIVAA gets a facility that fails to meet Third World standards. Heating and air-conditioning units have failed for at least ten years and, in fact, were not working when RIOC handled leasing over to Hudson Related.

Historically, RIVAA has played a vital role in the Roosevelt Island community, many of its contributions uncompensated.

For years before shops like Wholesome Factory opened and while familiar operations folded around them, Gallery RIVAA held tough as an attractive destination for local residents as well as visitors.

More so than any other venue before FDR Four Freedoms Park and Cornell Tech opened, RIVAA drew international attention and visitors.

Partly, that was made possible because RIOC gave them the space rent free in return for rehabilitating the wreck left behind when Bigelow Pharmacy pulled out. With RIVAA hard at work, one gaping whole was filled along Main Street, replaced with high quality art displays and a variety of community events.

In addition, RIVAA volunteered artwork to improve the appearance of empty storefronts elsewhere on Main Street — at no charge. 

The group joined RIOC in organizing the annual Fall for Arts Festival and opening the one-of-a-kind Motorgate Gallery, an effort to make the best of areas left to the elements by RIOC, covering up, for example, an escalator that did nothing more than collect debris for years, unfixed, after a breakdown.

The spring of 2016 saw RIVAA attract an international audience for the unveiling of The Blue Dragon, a children’s sculpture, donated by Norwegian artists Gustav and Ulla Kraitz for Southpoint.

But when RIOC President Leslie Torres signed off on the Retail Corridor Master Lease in April, 2011, Gallery RIVAA got tossed into the retail mix.

Heating and air-conditioning was already failing, by then, one of many complaints of neglect made against RIOC by storeowners expecting to be pushed out by Hudson Related.

In signing the lease, RIOC simply passed along its neglect to Hudson Related.

Two years before, in a conversation with me, then RIOC President Steve Shane justified a refusal to fix the units by noting that RIVAA’s rent free status meant that RIOC was already doing its share. Repairs were the nonprofit art group’s responsibility. 

That explanation vanished when RIOC’s Board approved the Master Lease as part of a larger bargain that included firing Shane and enriching Rivercross tenants, including Board Members, as the complex exited Mitchell-Lama.

Requiring RIVAA to pay rent for the first time, neither RIOC nor Hudson Related recognized the collective’s contributions nor did either organization accept responsibility for guaranteeing the space being paid for as habitable under normal weather conditions.

In response to questions from The Daily, Hudson Related declined to comment on the record, but RIOC’s new Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson replied, “…the current lease between Hudson Related Retail LLC and Gallery RIVAA puts the onus of HVAC maintenance on the tenant (i.e. RIVAA). Per the lease document, HRR delivered the HVAC as is and RIVAA is obligated to make all repairs, replacements and maintenance,” confirming RIOC’s contentment with having passed along damaged goods without any trailing responsibility.

The artists collective that’s done so much for the community is essentially stuck with a deal they had no role in completing.

Six years after the Retail Corridor Master Lease went into effect, RIVAA struggles to maintain a gallery under shameful conditions. 

While the vibrant Main Street envisioned by Hudson Related and RIOC has only been partially realized, a survivor from the worst of times and consistent contributor to the community continues to be left outside, now in the freezing cold.

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