Did Roosevelt Island Fail Its Neighbors for a Speakeasy?

Roosevelt Island fails its neighbors, this week, chucking them for wine with dinner at The Sanctuary.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island News

Last week, a group of Roosevelt Island residents left their neighbors in the ditch. It was all for a plan to dump a full time “speakeasy and alfresco beer garden” next to a children’s playground and family picnicking location.

An opening that closed doors

Roosevelt Island fails its neighbors in favor a cheap kick, a disruptive speakeasy set to open in 2020.
The Sanctuary opened September 30th. Some Roosevelt Islanders saw enough promise to throw their neighbors out the door.

The Sanctuary’s brain trust invited a select few to a fundraiser for the Titan Theatre Company. It was opening night

No press releases hit inboxes, and the invite list was strategic.

Owner Frank Raffaele plans to open a “speakeasy and alfresco beer garden,” according to a kissy face report in the New York Post. Since, he waffled on that without denying it. Smart move.

It won over some locals.

See how fast Roosevelt Island fails its neighbors

A glowing report in the Roosevelt Islander blog slanted the story so heavily it nearly tipped into the East River. Only frothy reporting kept it afloat.

The most telling thing about the story is that none of the cheerleaders live anywhere near The Sanctuary.

None of their children’s safety will be compromised by partying at all hours. Lost pleasures of Octagon Park won’t force them to change their exercise routines, and they won’t have to be extra cautious taking their dogs for late night or early morning walks.

Just fine for yours, but not in my backyard…

The Roosevelt Islander originates from Southtown. 

Effusive supporters quoted in the Roosevelt Islander:

  • Kristi Towey, executive director of Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, from Rivercross, raised her family without a beer garden or speakeasy next door. “The event at The Sanctuary was very nice,” she said. “It is a beautiful building. I look forward to hearing more about his mission and plan here on Roosevelt Island.”
  • Judith Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, also lives in Rivercross: “We look forward to having a venue that the community can use and enjoying the improvements made.”
  • Rossana Ceruzzi, executive director and founder of the Wildlife Freedom Foundation, a resident of Island House, chimed in: “Congratulations to Frank Raffaele on a wonderful event! It was a pleasure meeting him and Francesca.”
  • RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal commutes across the river from the Upper East Side. “No issues, no complaints and everything went smooth thanks to the dedicated men and women of the Public Safety Department.”

Hm. And nobody noticed the playground, the fire lane access or the picnic tables…

Pretend for now that Rosenthal was truthful but failed to say that PSD stepped in only after The Daily blew the whistle. PSD did a good job — at residents’ expense.

Neither Raffaele nor Hudson Related planned to avert traffic chaos entering and leaving the venue.

Not a single individual living north of Island House got quoted in the Roosevelt Islander report.

One thing slipped by most observers…

The Octagon, where a parking lot must be converted for two-way traffic, risks financial loss if the complex becomes less desirable. 

Who wants to raise a family next door to a speakeasy and alfresco beer garden? The hazards sped invisibly past The Sanctuary’s fans.

The Octagon is Hudson Related’s competitor for luxury apartments on Roosevelt Island. So, they win. Twice, collecting rent and, maybe, damaging an option for renters.

Did that enter into their thinking?

What else do the cheerleaders share…?

Their organizations rely on the community for support, and it’s not just the money.

In 2018, the Wildlife Freedom Foundation collected signatures island-wide to fight RIOC’s attempt to kick the cats out of Southpoint.

The Historical Society asked support in trying to keep the RI Monument from being planted in the Tram Plaza.

Each asked for help and got it.

How Roosevelt Island can avoid failing its neighbors…

Roosevelt Island can avoid failing its neighbors by changing venues.
In May, the endless construction phase at Blackwell House...

Why not do away with traffic and security problems simply? Move The Sanctuary downtown to Blackwell House.

RIOC can’t open the place after more than a decade and millions in rehab costs. Why not let the “regulations don’t matter” license given The Sanctuary ease the move?

It can be done in weeks, not years.

Supporters already approved an outdoor beer garden adjacent to a children’s playground and a family picnicking area. They won’t mind one looming over Blackwell Playground.

Think about the ease…

Blackwell house is just steps away from public transit. That takes away the car traffic, and we lose the half-drunk visitors urinating over the seawall. That’s worth something.

The area is well lit. PSD patrols will be easy, and fines add cash to RIOC’s bank account.

It’s a better plan, don’t you agree? 

Any objections?

9 thoughts on “Did Roosevelt Island Fail Its Neighbors for a Speakeasy?

  1. Mr. Stone I have been hearing some scuttlebutt that Rossanna and the Wildlife Freedom Foundation received funding for their Cat Hotel named the Plaza Meowtel from Frank Raffaele. Coincidence that she spoke highly of his event, I think NOT.

    1. Mike, I hadn’t heard that, but the guest list was strategic.They invited the top tier from Main Street Theatre & Dance, confident they would not be critical of an event that supported another theatre company. We found, yesterday, that Raffaele engaged Judy Berdy as a history consultant, a tactic used before to get her support.And the strategy of getting people sucked into a relatively unthreatening event space to soften them up for something far more radical isn’t stupid either. There won’t be any turning back once this is sneaked in. We have a chance for blocking or altering it at CB8 on Thursday.

  2. “Who wants to raise a family next door to a speakeasy and alfresco beer garden?” I think you underestimate the number of people here on Roosevelt Island who would love to have more of this kind of thing. This is NYC after all. The event was seen as a success and ity is obvious that many RIers want more of that kind of thing. Do you live in The Octagon or have spoken to anybody there? I only heard good things about the Sanctuary.

    1. You took that quote out of context. It had to do with the location, not the idea. I’m all for a place like this on Roosevelt Island, although I seriously doubt we have the population for it. This will need lots of off-island support to survive and can probably count on users of Octagon Field, but that’s seasonal.
      All that notwithstanding, the issue is with the location. It doesn’t matter if every resident in Southtown and the WIRE buildings loves it. It’s still the wrong location. It will ruin a kids playground and family picnic area and make The Octagon less desirable. Numerous safety issues are being ignored to help Hudson Related create some income.

      1. David – in a previous article you responded to one of my comments with, “Octagon residents already get a summer long drift of barbecue smells and sounds from the park without complaint..” basically stating the playground and picnic areas are a nuisance and but you’re toting them as a treasure – which one is it?
        Further at this point, a large majority of any businesses on Roosevelt Island will need off island-support to survive. With Amazon, home grocery delivery etc. and lease rates as high as they are, its virtually impossible to run a successful business here – as seen with all the ‘space available for lease’ signs in the canyon.

      2. You’re beginning to just make things up. Noting that we’re used to barbecue smells and sounds from the park makes them a nuisance is all in your head. I like the sights, sounds and smells of the city, and other than the occasional smell of kerosene, I’ve never heard anyone complain. Kerosene can make a sensitive nose burn. My point is, we don’t expect to be surrounded by a sculptured countryside garden-scape. It’s the quality and volume of what a beer garden and speakeasy, operating at least 16 hours a day brings, that’s objectionable. Put it down in Blackwell House where they already get lots of traffic and where it’s near public transit.
        Gristedes has been here for decades with virtually no off-island business. So has Nisi/Trellis where the business was endangered only by Hudson Related’s demands for a re-design. Even RIVAA pulls little outside traffic. Fuji East, China One, Roosevelt Island Wine and Spirits, Fusion Salon, Wholesome Factory, Bread & Butter Deli, Subway — all of these work well without significant outside traffic. A speakeasy and outdoor beer garden is different. Roosevelt Island has never proven ripe for an alcohol-based venue. The one we did have failed, even though much smaller than The Sanctuary, and Nisi’s bar, the only one currently around, is rarely full. The Sanctuary will need traffic from sports teams and more, and that coupled with its remote location means lots of vehicle traffic, vehicle smells and noise. Add to that the necessity of a dumpster in an inevitably unattractive location, and you have a severely decreased quality of life in this area.
        As residents of Southtown and Rivercross are so enthusiastic about this, I again suggest it be relocated to their neighborhood. Put it in Blackwell House. RIOC’s failed to open the place in twenty years, although they’ve pissed away millions; so, let Mr. Raffaele have a shot at it.

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