Between promise and reality, how Southpoint Park got lost

Southpoint Park, the promised people’s place, set aside for Roosevelt Islanders, got lost. It got lost in a bureaucratic, possibly corrupt shuffle, leaving locals out.

By David Stone

Special to The Roosevelt Island Daily

Southpoint Park, Near the Finish Line

In an October board meeting, RIOC president/CEO Shelton J. Haynes said that, after a prolonged reconstruction, Southpoint Park would fully reopen by the end of the year. Even though Haynes was reading from a PowerPoint and is often out of the loop, the claim was striking. Any close look at the state of the park shorelines raises doubts. Moreover, serious work paused in September and has not resumed.

Since these chairs were set out in mid-September, little else was done. Comfortable as they may be, they caught attention because, like most of the new seating in Southpoint Park, they defy an original intention. RIOC promised more comfortable seating for disabled visitors, but these are unusable for many.

But it’s not just the clumsy, meant to please time frames, it’s how badly the apparent results fail what RIOC and its contractor pledged.

What was promised: West Shoreline

Southpoint Park Plan fails disabled.
A grassy pathway and gently sloping shore highlight Langan’s rendering of what to expect after two long years of shoreline work.

Langan’s rendering of the finished project brought protests over destroying Roosevelt Island’s last natural shoreline, aiming for a mimicking of Brooklyn Bridge Park. The design was meant for tourists, not locals who paid for it.

What we’re getting: Western Shoreline

Southpoint Park’s Western Shoreline today, from the perspective shown in the rendering above. Haynes says it’s close to opening, but any resemblance to what was promised is pure coincidence.

Can it get worse? The Eastern Shoreline

Enjoy a long view of the Ravenswood Power Plant? This rendering is almost attractive with the landscaped paths, although too rocky.

Resident complaints forced RIOC/Langan to replace some of the world’s ugliest seating. Paths had to be widened for wheelchair access, but the result as the Eastern Shoreline nears opening is gut-wrenching.

What we’re getting: Eastern Shoreline

The final shoreline is so far off this promised rendering, it was hard getting an honest picture from the same perspective.

Because the rendering perspective served up to Roosevelt Islanders was pure hogwash, a fantasy cooked up to make the wipe out of Southpoint Park’s natural shorelines palatable, there never was any hope for it becoming real.

The Rest of Southpoint Park

RIOC has no answer for the switch that set aside community-based plans developed earlier with Fitzgerald & Halliday in favor of this mess. A months old FOIL request has not been completed. But it’s important noting that the rest of the shoreline is no better. And the original intent of mapping a plan for the Smallpox Hospital’s future was abandoned along with the wildlife, trees and wild grasses.

Here are some before and after perspectives….

Southpoint Park Shorelines, Early Summer 2020

A variety of wild grasses formed a dense network, home to small animals and insects vital to habitat survival.
June, 2020

In a presentation, Langan Engineering, RIOC’s partner, promised the reconstructed shoreline would be more natural than the one it repplaced.

Tree-filled shoreline on the east side of Southpoint Park in 2020 before RIOC sent in the backhoes.

Old growth trees on the Western Shoreline were the last to go, but go they did.


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