Another Packed Agenda

RIOC Board Sept. 2017: Affordability, Budget, Road Striping, Signage...

David Stone

RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal's activist agenda was on display last Thursday. There was big news for housing, a proposed budget that includes $23 million from the Cornell deal, a spiky debate exposing old injuries and some humor over RIOC's continuing ineptitude with the oddly difficult topic of signs.

The Big Challenge: Signs

RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal
RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal
Photo courtesy of RIOC by Erica Spencer-El

Each meeting sets aside time before getting underway to let residents step up and address the Board.

The time was well used by Janet Falk. Falk spiced her appeal for, at long last, signage to help visitors know where to go and what to expect when arriving on the Island with quotes from the last three RIOC Presidents, beginning with Leslie Torres, each vowing to act.

You can't be blamed for thinking that creating and posting helpful signs is the simplest of core responsibilities, but for decades, RIOC has handled the task like something with a degree of difficulty akin to the Middle East peace accords.

Reasonably, you'd expect a third generation of signage by now, but we're still waiting for the first iteration.

I recall iDig2Learn's Christina Delfico telling me that Sherie Helstien had been pushing for signs for ten years. I didn't think any entity capable of holding off Helstien for that long, but RIOC has done the unthinkable, failing to execute the simple and obvious in spite of the efforts of Helstien and many others.

Last we heard about signage, at a spring Board Meeting, a contract was approved for signage at long last, and not just plain old signage. This one, for inexplicable reasons, would steal its design from Robert Indiana's Love sculpture on 6th Avenue, replacing the original letters with RI, big, bright and red.

RIOC Board Sept. 2017: Affordability, Budget, Road Striping, Signage...

But you'd expect something more complicated after a presentation that rivaled Arlo Guthrie's description of the crime scene in Alice's Restaurant, with all the circles and arrows, but no...

Now, after just three months, it's done. No, silly, not the sign. RIOC's contractor has a "mockup" ready.

After all these years, what's the rush?

And you'll be able to check it out on September 19th at the Tram Plaza and comment too. Just one day, though, and someone suggested that viewing of this important masterpiece would be limited to a single hour.

No firm word, though, on anything more useful than a big red sign that will remind visitors of where they are and nothing more.

How could anything so simple be made so difficult that, after 30 plus years, not a single sign exists directing visitors to the core business district that really needs help, Blackwell House, Good Shepherd Plaza, Lighthouse Park..."

We do have an inexplicable EXIT sign, though.

Business Done

  • The most time consuming business of the evening involved an amendment to Southtown's ground lease that opens the door to Buildings 8 & 9, including an impressive 47% affordable housing. It should've been easier, but the administration's handoff to the Board was so inept it stirred to life years of hard feelings and resentment. You can read more details here.
  • A proposed budget for 2018 got kicked around. Controversially, a $51 million income figure includes $23 million from the State as part of the deal RIOC cut to give up space for Cornell Tech. It's contentious because, subsequent to the Board's vote in 2013, then RIOC President Charlene Indelicato signed a Memorandum of Understanding that's inconsistent with what the Board approved, hinging the money on actions by RIOC that were not part of what the Board okayed. Current President Rosenthal has taken a pragmatic, Let's work with the cards we've been dealt approach. Hold your breath. Real fireworks might blow in the spring when the final budget comes up for a vote.
  • RIOC cut a deal with the NYS Department of Transportation for striping and painting our roads at an eyebrow raising maximum cost of $350,000. 
  • An agreement is closer on a new Tram elevator, but as the RFP drew only a single bidder, RIOC is carefully examining the proposal to be sure it's what they want. The last award, which would have given us reliable elevator service already, fell apart when the winning bidder succumbed to bankruptcy.
  • While awaiting bids on an RFP for operating the Roosevelt Island Youth Center, the Board approved a three month extension of Charlie DeFino's RI Youth Program contract.

President's Report

Her passion for upgrading infrastructure in full view, Rosenthal announced that the last hurdle, an insurance requirement with the city, had been leapt over, and work on updating Blackwell House, an important piece of the Main Street success puzzle, begins any day now.

The first phase of a longterm project to upgrade seawall railings has been signed off on and awaits only a permit from the City. Bureaucracy being what it is, that wait is of indefinite duration.

Also beyond RIOC's control, ConEd will be working on Main Street again soon

(Should we have "Under Construction" signs posted from one end of the Island to the other? There's so much construction, sometimes you don't even notice the intrusive leaf blowers.)

Rosenthal reported that they are doing a review of the Roosevelt Island Bridge Helix, a topic I first covered with Steve Shane, three RIOC Presidents and eight years ago, to see if there is anything more they can do than patch (and in our opinion, pray) the rickety, Third World-style structure before cold weather sets in.

With this action packed agenda on the heels of a hefty, special meeting in August, no one is going to accuse RIOC or its Board of being inactive. Behind the buzz of activity sits the foundation of improvements from which we will benefit for decades.

Now, if we can just get some signs...