A Target Christmas

Update: Things That Make You Say, "$75,000 for That?!!"

Updated 1 year ago David Stone
Blown over on the first windy day. You'd have thought $75K would buy something, uhm... more sturdy...
Blown over on the first windy day. You'd have thought $75K would buy something, uhm... more sturdy...
© Deborah Julian / Roosevelt Island Daily

If news of the pricey Winter Wonderland planned for Roosevelt Island this holiday season left you feeling anything from underwhelmed to dubious, you probably aren't going to feel any better now that the build out is underway. It promises to be everything we were afraid it would be.

Where's the Wonder in "Winter Wonderland?"

Now that the full $75,000 holiday decoration scheme has been lit and brightening Main Street for a week, we took a more informed look. There were some pleasant surprises, but mostly, the disappointment guaranteed to last for three full years remains.

When Hudson, Southtown's developer, showed off its designs for the Winter Wonderland RIOC President and CEO Susan Rosenthal craved after enduring the drab Main Street holiday decorations last year, it didn't sit well with RIOC's Board, which approved the deal anyway, largely because, once again, it was forced on them without adequate time for review.

Clearly, the reindeer herd thinned out on the way to Roosevelt Island
Clearly, the reindeer herd thinned out on the way to Roosevelt Island
© Deborah Julian / Roosevelt Island Daily

"I'm tired of being pushed," complained Fay Christian. Again.

Christian has protested having complicated proposals abruptly show up at Board meetings, needing immediate approval, but that has not visibly changed how things are handled here.

Another voice of concern, Margie Smith, said, "I'm uncomfortable with it too."

Stars! Will tourists come all the way from Queens for the big photo op?
Stars! Will tourists come all the way from Queens for the big photo op?
© Deborah Julian / Roosevelt Island Daily

Smith's protest was principled and in detail.

Why give up $50,000 in revenue for something that we'd enjoy for only two months when needy nonprofits serving the Island year round get a grand total among them of only $100,000?

To fund Winter Wonderland, RIOC approved an annual $50,000 rent concession for Hudson's Southtowns lease, and Hudson, which will manage the project, kicks in $25,000. The deal is locked in for three years, like it or not.

Without being told some details Rosenthal chose not to share with the Board, Smith argued that our local arts organizations should have been considered.

The nonprofit arts groups serving Roosevelt Island complained bitterly, if not for the record, as they went through RIOC's ultra stingy Public Purpose Fund process simultaneous with the birth of Winter Wonderland

Sponsored: Why Santa doesn't have cats holiday cards...

But it's even worse than Smith and Christian imagined because, in spite of Rosenthal's insistence that  outside resources were needed because we lacked them locally, an eager group of art organizations met with her and Hudson representative Alex Kaplan in July.

The Winter Wonderland idea was discussed in detail, including community wide involvement and coordinated events like caroling.

Island art institutions RIVAA and MST&DA carry rosters of artists with professional skill sets from architecture to live performance.

But Rosenthal's rebuff wasn't the worst of it.

Roosevelt Landings Arcade
Roosevelt Landings Arcade
© Deborah Julian / Roosevelt Island Daily

The worst thuds to earth when you realize, as one resident instantly reacted, "It all looks like stuff you could buy at Target."

Neon trees, reindeer and stars on display are so generic you have to fight back doubt that this inventory is on its maiden voyage.

RIVAA and company could have done better for less, and there is no good reason why they were cut out.

Troubling, also, is the geographic orientation of Winter Wonderland toward Southtown. 

On further review, as they say in the NFL, that's not so troubling after all because the Riverwalk Commons displays don't come off nearly as impressive as presentations suggested and the displays don't appear to be either fresh or new. Some were already coming apart when we checked earlier this week.

Budget runs low by the time you get to Westview...
Budget runs low by the time you get to Westview...
© Deborah Julian / Roosevelt Island Daily

A pleasant surprise is the large, well-lit Christmas tree on the lawn south of Rivercross. The ceremony leading up to it was well attended, but it was an exceptional highlight in an otherwise disappointing $75,000 mistake.

The south side of Good Shepherd Plaza gets a row of standing, illuminated stars, and the arcade in front of Roosevelt Landings gets a lively facelift with lights and hanging garland - it's the best part of the show.

Nisi, now opened, gets not a single wisp of decoration in front or on its side of Good Shepherd Plaza.

Northward, there isn't much. Westview's blessed with external decorations visible only from the street, and Gristedes, billed by Hudson as Main Street's anchor store, gets zip, nada.

... and completely runs out by the time it gets to Manhattan Park. The Octagon? Maybe RIOC will leave the tennis court lights on.
... and completely runs out by the time it gets to Manhattan Park. The Octagon? Maybe RIOC will leave the tennis court lights on.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Manhattan Park isn't invited to the Wonderland nor is the Octagon. 

Both, however, one upped Winter Wonderland. Manhattan Park especially, where a dazzling array of lights ringing River Road accents generously decorated lobbies in each building, giving it an honestly exciting Christmas feel, something Winter Wonderland, for a lot more money, barely hints at.

Photo ops, as promoted as a selling point by Hudson, are a bust. Only seldom do you see anyone posing with the so-what displays.

What we have is an expensive, off the shelf display acknowledging less than half the community and one more failure to bring unity to Roosevelt Island, even in a season when it's most appropriate.

We can only hope that Hudson sees the lights (or the lack of them) and finds a way to do more with our money over the next two years of the contract. Given their stubbornness over changing the equally so-what "RI Monument," however, we are not optimistic.

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