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President's Report - August 27, 2011

posted Sep 5, 2011, 2:23 PM by Vinicius Fortuna
Jambo! That’s Swahili for hello. My wife, Sherie, and I have brought back a smattering of the language from our safari in Kenya, along with wonderful memories and photographs. We met the Masai and toured their elephant-dung dwellings. We jounced along rough trails in our four-wheel-drive vans in search of the animals and birds of the savannahs and watering holes. We stayed in treetop resorts overlooking waterholes and in luxury tents. It was the adventure of a lifetime. Our team leader took a photograph of a giraffe kissing Sherie as she held a food pellet in her lips. Given that giraffes have 18-inch tongues, it was quite a moment! Perhaps I’ll be able to share that snapshot with y’all in these pages.

It’s been eight weeks since the last issue of The WIRE, and this summer has been anything but restful for Island activists. So buckle your seatbelts; here we go:


My last column was devoted to limning our distress with the recent appointment of a non-resident to the RIOC Board of Directors and the implications for the future of community representation within this key agency. The work has continued, under the leadership of RIRA Councilor Bill Long, with the goal of a face-to-face meeting with Governor Cuomo. New York’s governors are the final arbiters of every decision affecting Roosevelt Island, and it is imperative that we make our case directly with this one. Such a meeting with Gov. Pataki in 2002 resulted in the law requiring that the RIOC Board include a majority of Island residents. We built on that to include seven resident members -- six elected in Island-wide referenda -- and with the two remaining directors ex officio representatives of State agencies. We are approaching that meeting incrementally, and I’m confident of success.
Retail Master Lease

At long last, effective August 1, we have a signed Master Lease with Hudson-Related, which has taken over from RIOC the responsibilities of commercial landlord along the Northtown Main Street corridor. They are asking for our evaluations of existing retail stores and restaurants, and our ideas for future additions. Their online survey is slowly making its way through the community, and I urge you to be heard by participating. This link nyc10044.com/z/3d will take you to it, and it will be available until September 21. However, why wait? Complete it now. (Paper copies are also available at RIOC, 591 Main Street.)

RIRA has scheduled a post-Labor Day meeting with Hudson honcho David Kramer and his staff, with the intention of setting up a Town Meeting to encourage a dialogue with the community on what the new Main Street should look like, as well as what stores we need.

I see this Master Lease as a win-win proposition for everyone. We get shops that we’ve done without and sorely missed for years. The developers get a viable commercial sector with which to lure prospective tenants to the Island. And don’t forget, we’re trying to encourage the placement of a billion-dollar research facility at the site of soon-to-be-vacant Goldwater Hospital.

The Goldwater Site

Negotiations continue between the City’s Economic Development Corporation and what was described in June as 18 interested academic institutions. Students and faculty will have quarters on that site and decent shopping is one way to attract them and to convince a school to locate here. RIRA intends to create a consortium of Island organizations to negotiate a Community Benefit Agreement. As has been explained to me, CBAs are project-specific contracts between developers and community organizations that are safeguards to ensure that local community residents share in the benefits of major developments. They allow community groups to have a voice in shaping a project, to press for community benefits that are tailored to their particular needs, and to enforce developers’ promises. RIRA Councilor Denise Shull is overseeing this initiative. We anticipate a decision by December of this year, so stay tuned.

Post Office

I came home from vacation to find our Roosevelt Island Post Office in jeopardy, with a possible 34 City stations marked for closing in a cost-cutting scheme. Last week, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney led a rally in front of the post office to fight back against the madness. She and other representatives noted that the U.S. Postal Service is self-sufficient and is not funded through the federal budget. We stated the obvious arguments -- that senior, disabled and low-income residents should not be required to cross a river to take care of their postal needs. In addition, we noted that our international community, including diplomats working at the United Nations and foreign missions, have specialized postal needs requiring a full-service station. And then, there are the new merchants soon to be doing business on Main Street, and a research institution at the Goldwater site, that may choose not to locate to a community that lacks a post office.

I was able to present Congresswoman Maloney with over 2,000 signatures on petitions disseminated by community leaders. We’ve been asked to continue the effort and so, when a neighbor asks you to sign, please take the time. In addition, there is an on-line petition and I urge you to respond here as well.

Good Shepherd Plaza and 9/11

You’ve seen the renovations on the plaza at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. This work has been on the drawing boards for over a year, and I’ve participated in the planning along with Judy Berdy of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, and the Landmarks Conservancy. This project will replace the cracked tiles with thicker, longer-lasting ones, enhance the drainage, and improve the lighting and location of benches.

I’ve reminded RIOC that RIRA again will present a candlelight memorial ceremony on Sunday, September 11, at twilight. The planning has just begun, and we know how special this 10th-anniversary observance will be. RIOC Vice President Fernando Martinez has assured me that there will be access to our memorial site northwest of the Chapel building. I’ll have more on this in the next issue of The WIRE on September 10.

Dig We Must

Another infrastructure project, newly begun, involves the seating along Main Street at Capobianco Field. Many of my neighbors use this concrete ledge to take the air, to socialize and to wait for the northbound Red Bus. I saw the schematics of the fix to this crumbling structure some time ago, and I’m glad RIOC has chosen a period post-Little League and prior to soccer season to make these necessary repairs.

Unforgettable et al

That’s the name of the television show, to be aired this fall, in production at 504 Main Street. Roosevelt Island has been the location for filming since the silent days when Thomas Edison shot footage of Blackwell’s Island. We have hosted many feature-length movies, TV shows and commercial shoots since then, with revenue accruing to RIOC’s coffers. In recent years, my wife and I have hit up location companies for contributions to RIRA, representing the community actually being inconvenienced by the trucks, cables and lights, and we’ve never been turned down. RIOC President Leslie Torres has green-lighted our efforts, canceling the opposition of her predecessor, who threatened me with jail should I seek a location-company donation. Honest to God -- jail. I never did find out why. While we were away, RIRA Vice President Ellen Polivy took the initiative and negotiated a $2,000 contribution to RIRA’s meager treasury. Way to go, Ellen!

You may have heard about (or been subjected to) the inconveniences of the night shoots that directed klieg lights into some Rivercross apartments. The location company offered blackout curtains to the affected, but only after the damage was done. I’ve asked RIOC to anticipate these problems and to address them in specific language within the contracts they sign with the studios. In addition, RIOC must do a better job of communicating to this community, prior to the shoot dates, the starting dates, the duration of filming and the difficulties anticipated. I encourage RIOC to take advantage of the fees these shoots make available, but also to remember which “public” this Public Benefit Corporation represents.

Another television show just finishing production here is called White Collar. We encountered location staff while walking over the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge and initiated a conversation that has led to their financial support of your Residents Association, and to the tune of $500. My wife says, you never know until you ask. Way to go Sherie!

On the Front Burner

Tomorrow, Sunday, I will meet with the RIRA officers and committee chairs in a traditional end-of-the-first-summer-post-election meeting. This will afford us an opportunity to evaluate our first year’s efforts and to plan for our second and final year. Our reality is that, by Labor Day 2012, we will be planning for the next RIRA elections on November 8 and precious little else. I’ll share the results next time.

Manhattan Community Board 8, of which Roosevelt Island is a part, hosts a television show called CB8 Speaks. I’ve been invited to discuss Roosevelt Island issues on their next show. I was pleased to learn that I will appear along with Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and I can’t think of a better Island advocate with whom to do a duet. We tape on September 2, but I don’t know when the show will air. I’m told that CB8 Speaks usually appears on the fourth Thursday of the month starting at 9:30 p.m. but I’ll have something more definitive in my next column. The show airs on Time Warner channel 34, FiOS channel 34, and RCN channel 82, and is available as well on the CB8 website cb8m.com/cb8speaks. Lots to talk about and I hope they give us hours and hours in which to cover the territory.

Do you know the Icla da Silva Foundation? This Island-based organization was named after a young girl, a Brazilian immigrant to Roosevelt Island, who died of leukemia when a bone marrow donor couldn’t be found in time to save her life. Her family created the foundation to honor her memory, and with the mission to save lives by recruiting bone marrow donors and by providing services to children and adults with leukemia and other diseases treatable by marrow transplants. Today, the Icla da Silva Foundation brings together donors and recipients from all over the Western Hemisphere.

Airam da Silva, my neighbor in Westview, is planning a 5K Walk/Run Marrowthon on October 15 to raise funds. When RIRA started producing blood drives here ten years ago, I worked in conjunction with the Foundation, and Airam taught me the ropes. Sherie and I have signed up for the Walk/Run (I think we’re walking) and we may assemble a RIRA team if enough folks want to join us. There is a $25 fee to sign up ($15 for kids). You can join our team, set up your own, or compete solo to raise money by signing up contributors. More information is available at www.iclaevents.org.

See, I told you this would be a test of endurance. I’m going to lie down now.

-- Matthew Katz