RIOC Upgrades Southpoint Park


RIOC Upgrades Southpoint Park, starting with the shoreline. Damaged by Super Storm Sandy, areas near the East River are unsafe. Phase 1 fixes that, RIOC projected in February 2020.

Reporting by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

With approvals now in hand, RIOC’s upgrades to Southpoint Park begin soon. “The first phase,” according to RIOC spokesperson Terrence McCauley, “focuses on safety issues.”

For visitors, safer shores mean open spaces. East River access, now fenced off, unfolds along designed pathways in the plan.

Southpoint Park was once home to hospitals, factories and a prison. Now green space, its weakened shoreline limits public use. Battered by both Hurricane Irene and Super Storm Sandy, several yards inland are unsafe, landfill washed out.

In Phase 1, new riprap also strengthens the waterfront.

Concerns about the ecosystem…

But Phase 1 generated concerns after a public meeting in September. Repeated references to Brooklyn Bridge Park as a model threatened Roosevelt Island’s distinctive character.

Those worries are misplaced, according to RIOC.

“The purpose of the Southpoint Park Open Space/Revetment Project is not to build a trail, but to replace a crumbling seawall and remove toxic soil from our community,” wrote McCauley, answering our question.

“The project will not only make the park more hospitable to wildlife but will also introduce more natural vegetation to the area.”

But Wildlife Freedom Foundation director Rosanna Ceruzzi disagrees.

“The ecosystems will be completely destroyed if the proposed development plan by RIOC is implemented,” she wrote, commenting on an earlier article.

RIOC counters protests about habitat damage with approvals from multiple City, State and Federal agencies.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of the Interior – Fish and Wildlife Services vetted the work. Joining in — the New York City Waterfront Revitalization Program and the National Marine Fisheries Services.

But Ceruzzi was right, as it turned out.

Starting planning for Southpoint’s future, RIOC said a solution for the historic Smallpox Hospital was critical. But that’s been set aside.

See more about Phase 1 here.

Avoiding 2018’s Cat Sanctuary Debacle

In 2018, a bungled attempt to evict the Wildlife Freedom Foundation cat sanctuary in Southpoint angered many. A protest petition garnered over a thousand signatures and inspired local television reports.

RIOC backed down, but trust vanished.

Now, because the shoreline plan forces the removal of the sanctuary, the reaction was quick and fiery.

But RIOC insists that their plans embrace the sanctuary, if in another location. With removal unavoidable, alternate plans for the sanctuary are in the works.

“We are concerned about the cat sanctuary, too,” McCauley told the Roosevelt Island Daily, “and want the WFF to go on providing an important service to the community.”

RIOC already supports the Wildlife Freedom Foundation through a public purpose grant.

This week, RIOC “reached out to the WFF to discuss moving the cat sanctuary to a better location.”

Better late than never.

“We look forward to speaking with them,” McCauley added.

Structural improvements, water and electricity are part of the package.

RIOC Upgrades at Southpoint and other resident concerns…

There are other lingering issues.

In planning sessions, nearly four years ago, RIOC’s consultant asked residents what they wanted in an upgrade.

Although some questioned the need for any change at the popular park, three specific concerns came up. Two from residents, and one from RIOC.

Residents expressed dissatisfaction with Southpoint’s public facilities. “The existing comfort station was built in 2010 and, since it is in good condition, there are no plans to replace it yet,” RIOC said.

Esthetic concerns about Southpoint’s public restrooms have not moved RIOC. Everyone agrees they’re ugly, a park blemish, but change is not on the drawing board.

Seating for the disabled visitors

The late Jim Bates, then leading the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, criticized seating. Backless benches line the main walkway.

RIOC thought seriously about Bates’s complaints in their planning.

“There will be benches with arms that allow people to sit down and stand more easily and comfortably,” McCauley said. “There will also be open areas next to the benches to allow for people in wheelchairs and their companions to be able to enjoy the area as well.”

But here’s what really happened. The new benches are worse than anything before… and what you see here is the best of the lot.

The gorilla in the room is silent

The landmarked Smallpox Hospital, partly designed by James Renwick, is not in the picture.

Although RIOC president Susan Rosenthal set the site at the top of her priority list, four years ago, it slipped aside.

“We stabilized (the ruins) a while back and those efforts seem to be holding for now,” McCauley said, adding that no funds are in the current budget.

But a new player entered.

RIOC is working with Friends of the Ruins, a nonprofit “exploring the future of the ruins.”

That future is complex. Estimated costs just for permanent stabilization run as high as $50 million.

So far, expenses for upkeep thereafter are unknown.


  1. IO cannot believe that the RI Garden Club and I Dig to Learn have not come out with vocal support for re-examining the plans for Southpoint Park.
    All our green advocates should stick together!

    • The problem may be that WFF has not done much to make its case, and RIOC has with a long list of approvals. Details of their concerns have been requested but not provided. On my end, I just don’t know anything about the substance. And the Garden Club rarely wanders out of its own gates.

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