Main Street Miracle Now Imagined On Roosevelt Island?


Is a miracle on Main Street possible for Roosevelt Island? After decades of disappointment, any major uptick might look like one, but can RIOC pull it off?

Reporting by David Stone

Before RIOC’s Real Estate Development Advisory Committee (REDAC) shut down, sending board members, the public and the media into a cold winter night, Dave Kapell had an idea. He sat on it all through the meeting.

Now, it was time for “Any other committee business…”

Four years into life on Roosevelt Island, his interest in “the mystery of Main Street” curled into an idea. Could the mystery become “the miracle?”

In his tenure of public service in Greenport on Long Island, where he maintains a second home, Kapell spent a dozen as mayor… and is credited with, guess what? Revitalizing Main Street.

“Why can’t we support a modest size business district?” he mused.

His best answer: The face we offer arrivals across the bridge from Queens is dreary. Motorgate is a major asset in waiting.

“It’s beautiful,” he said.

Well, yeah, if you don’t look closely and never in good light.

A Miracle on Main Street, Roosevelt Island: Step One

For those of us watching the flop on Main Street, otherwise known as Shops On Main, there’s a disconnect.

Isn’t that a pretty long hike from Motorgate to the fantasized wine bar at 503 Main? The long empty shell of Riverwalk Bar & Grill?

It is, but as Kapell grasped it, Motorgate is Roosevelt Island’s primary hub. The community’s only real intersection, the place where Northtown parts ways with the past, is here.

As RIOC developed Roosevelt Island, it pushed in every direction, but let this vital space suffer neglect. Serious neglect.

Original Roosevelt Island Tram cabins collect dust under a parking garage.

As to emphasize failure, RIOC dumped the historic Roosevelt Island Tram cabins behind an ugly fence at the rear of the atrium.

But as Kapell sees it, the miracle of saving Main Street starts with one step.

And that’s making something great out of Motorgate.

Motorgate Keynote

With RIOC president Susan Rosenthal openly in support, Kapell suggests making the most out of Motorgate may change everything.

Drawing people to a “modest-sized business district” means a facelift for the ugly, neglected atrium.

Nobody really knows if a Motorgate revival can lead to filling Main Street’s empty storefronts, but it’s a start.

For years since RIOC boarded them up, residents appealed for working escalators and something, anything, to spruce the space up.

The RIVAA/RIOC Motorgate Gallery was a kick start, but four years later, the art rotation’s taken place in a surrounding vacuum. It’s like a garden trying to make its way in swamp.

But as a new board member bringing fresh eyes to the challenge, Kapell is “amazed” at what a great structure the atrium is.

A display — at night with fresh interior lighting — proved his point.

But how to get from here to there?

A Conclusion of Sorts.

Although no vision is clear or even seriously attempted yet, Kapell has an idea that may bring one into view.

He explained at REDAC that the brutalist design concept under which Main Street developed is making a comeback. And he thinks young architects might come running with imaginations, if RIOC offers a design competition.

Fresh ideas like a spring shower over a desert of neglect… Event space? A gallery of small shops? Artisans?

For many of us, a power wash across the Main Street face edges close to wonder.

But as exciting as Kapell’s idea is, any miracle on Main Street for Roosevelt Island must deal with the failure of Shops On Main, a flop managers Hudson Related denies.

But look at the near-permanent “Available” signs filling windows where goods might be. Look at the absence of foot traffic. And Red Buses shuttle by, evading the few businesses holding on.

Look at the lingering myth of 14,000 residents and Hudson Related’s insistence of Manhattan-level leases…

If David Kapell’s exciting idea for Motorgate leads to a miracle on Main Street, it’ll need help. And cooperation.

And a change in attitude extending south all the way to the Tram.


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