As RIOC seizes more public space, it’s at the expense of local community groups, and many are worried. Even before the Blackwell House takeover, the state secretly sucked up space in the Cultural Center.
By David Stone
In better times, independent productions like this Christmas show in rehearsal, depended on space in the Cultural Center.
“It would be devastating our business if they keep blocking out spaces that we cannot use,” worried one manager.
Roosevelt Island community groups are scrambling for a future filled with unknowns, and some may fold.
RIOC Seizes More Public Space, But Why?
RIOC seizing more public space is a given, but understanding why isn’t well-known. Shrouded in secrecy and undisclosed motives, the super secret state agency vibrates dysfunction and favoritism.
The proximate cause of the space crunch is the pending end of RIOC’s lease at 591 Main Street. After occupying generous free space in Westview for decades, the state agency now chooses to squeeze out nonprofits rather than pay up.
Overtures from Westview management, asking RIOC president/CEO Shelton Haynes about the agency’s plans, met silence. Our sources tell us that neither Haynes nor anyone on his staff even acknowledged the communications.
Seizing community spaces, it seems, was always the plan.
Not long after, also without public notice, Haynes moved into second floor space in historic Blackwell House. Residents invested hundreds of thousands over the years, some of it because of inept RIOC management, in refurbishing the site.
Haynes also seized public parking space nearby, four spots reserved for his gas-guzzler and his guests.
In May, RIOC also demanded a takeover of Gallery RIVAA two days a week for continuing the painful comedy of its expensive COVID testing site failure.
But the extent to which the opaque state agency gobbled up valued rooms in the Cultural Center wasn’t well-known until recently. RIOC’s seizing more public space there was under the cover of COVID restrictions.
RIOC using several rooms of the Cultural Center as storage
“It’s looking like some — not all — of the associates of “the Queen of Mean” are making it difficult to impossible for some long-time permit holders at the Cultural Center and at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd to get their new inquiries and applications for June to December addressed, as they plan summer and fall activities,” a concerned resident wrote.
“It’s been exacerbated by RIOC using several rooms of the CC as storage for records probably kept at 591 Main until now.”
This echoed other comments.
“There are two classrooms that are temporarily storing materials, but I’m not sure what’s there or for how long. They covered the windows and put locks on the door.”
What’s “temporary” about RIOC seizing more public space?
As was noted when RIOC referred to Haynes’s turning Blackwell House historic space into an everyday office, the “temporary” piece results from multiple failures, starting with a deal for finishing Southtown.
Over three years ago, when Hudson-Related hustled RIOC’s board into a rushed approval for Buildings 8 and 9, the last in Southtown, a move by the state agency into Building 9 was part of the deal.
Without conflict, in 2019, RIOC’s board shared space on the stage with MSTDA shows and classes.
That, we reported, would increase local blight with a big new hole on Main Street.
But the developers built only Building 8, a showpiece in affordable housing, maybe the best in New York. Building 9 remains little more than a plot of land, leaving RIOC homeless.
Of course, if not consumed by internal dramas and battles over turf, RIOC might’ve seen this coming. Working something out with Westview’s management makes more sense than crushing community groups. But it requires some things on which RIOC’s always short: common sense and respect for residents.
Whatever differences they had — and there were plenty — with building managers, administrations prior to Haynes’s found ways to work things out without harming residents.
But that’s over now because RIOC’s management was so crippled by the internal Rosenthal coup, a following makeover succeeded only in solidifying the security of known incompetents.
Conclusion: Fear of Speaking Up
“The politics of being at their mercy for space makes it difficult to go on the record,” one resident said in reference to RIOC.
RIOC retribution toward critics is on record and increasing.
“If anything, after COVID, they should give their main space users even more priority to recover from the period of time they were closed,” our source added. “They are nonprofits after all!”
But the current administration’s lack of empathy is well-documented. The past year witnessed the devolution of “Public Benefit Corporation” into “Employee Benefit Corporation.”
Unless elected overseers, like assembly member Rebecca Seawright, intervene or that long lost shipment of board member spines arrives, the Roosevelt Island community and its valued groups will continue losing ground to RIOC.
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