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Roosevelt Island Beats the Wiz, But How Is a Mystery

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“Nobody beats the Wiz?” What’s that old marketing slogan got to do with Roosevelt Island? Nothing now, and that’s the good news. Here’s why…

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Here’s how the southern reaches of Roosevelt Island looked in 2000. That’s when RIOC’s brain trust agreed to let Nobody beats the Wiz founder Stephen S. Jemal build the Roosevelt Island Riviera.

Southpoint below the Smallpox Hospital ruins. It was open to the public only on the 4th of July when the community filled up the south end while Macy’s fireworks exploded overhead.

The Riviera vision included a 35-story luxury hotel that gobbled up 90% of the land, shore to shore, from the Tram Plaza south. RIOC’s illustrious board disregarded traffic flow, which would have destroyed Main Street, and the existing masterplan which set aside the area for parkland.

But fortunately, here’s what the area looks like today. FDR Four Freedoms State Park fills the area with greenspace, now recognized as the most serene in New York City.

Caution: all the geniuses who sat on RIOC’s board then are not gone. They could do something like this again.

FDR Four Freedoms Park, Summer 2021.

No luxury development, no hotel, just serenity…

“Anchored by a new ferry terminal on each side of the island, a new pedestrian promenade is proposed just south of the tram. Complete with kiosks selling newspapers, coffee and snacks and benches offering the amazing views of the water, the city, the bridge and the tram, this space would serve as an urban gathering place. The tram station itself would be renovated by creating a glass enclosure on both sides of the tram so residents can enjoy the views while they wait. Just north of the site SSJ Development would also renovate the existing subway station…”

Developer Plan as quoted in the Roosevelt Islander Blog,

What became of the plan is unclear, but it went away in spite of RIOC’s best efforts at wrecking the Island for the benefit of real estate developers.

Just when we almost forgot about Nobody beats the Wiz…

Historian Judith Berdy spotted a promo masking as a news article: From the Wiz to SSJ, Stephen S. Jemal Dedication To Better Everyone Life On His Path Continue

After the sale of Nobody beats the Wiz, the article says,

“He began by responding to an RFP from RIOC (Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation), for the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, known as “Southpoint”. He was one of seventy respondents and against all odds my proposal and vison for Southpoint beat out all the other very established and famous brand-name development companies. Through the years spent on trying to gain the “NIMBY’s” approval for his massive mixed use development project, he really got a complete education on NYC zoning laws, rules, and regulations. He also, very greatly expanded his network of professionals with New York centric expertise that is invaluable to him.

Daily Scanner, January 18th, 2022.

That project was over 15 years ago. Neither RIOC nor Jemal made clear why the ground was never broken on it. But as we are still stuck with some of the deep thinkers then occupying the board, you get a sense of how disconnected from the community they were and are.

It could have been worse. Although RIOC made a disaster out of Southpoint Park with The Shelton J. Haynes/Langan Rock Garden, they first yielded with the Roosevelt Island Riviera.

The Roosevelt Island Daily News is committed to covering its community without bias or shrinking from thorny issues. We need your support in our mission. Reading is always free but our expenses are not. Please chip in.

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