Roosevelt Island’s Amazing, Shrinking Community Events

Roosevelt Island’s Amazing, Shrinking Community Events

Community events bind neighbors, sharing values and everyday life experiences. Shrinking or ending them, especially those bound in tradition, makes little sense, but that’s exactly what RIOC under Shelton J. Haynes did throughout last year.

It started with a strange and inexplicable failure to recognize Black History Month in February. Revelations later showed that a likely contributing factor was an ambitious round of firings that left RIOC’s staff short of capable personnel.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

On a sunny September afternoon, I ran into State Senator José Serrano in Good Shepherd Plaza. As our outgoing representative – because of redistricting – he was disappointed over losing Roosevelt Island.

“But I’ll come back for events,” he said.

Roosevelt Island Day and Fall for Arts are his favorites.

FIGMENT NYC brought tourists pouring into Lighthouse Park for inventive artistic creations. It was a rare event that brought visitors streaming north through the community. It ended without a word after Haynes took over.

In light of the indifference to the community that’s been a hallmark of the Shelton J. Haynes era at RIOC, Senator Serrano’s well advised to see them while he can. They are going away fast.

Changes: Are they permanent?

While the pandemic played a role in shrinking events, the losses continued even as almost all restrictions were lifted. This year, for example, Haynes wanted to cancel Fall for Arts altogether but was talked out of it by managers.

By the time that internal plans should be in progress, Haynes had sacked everyone who’d worked on the festival in the past. They hadn’t been replaced, leaving the work in his lap.

He didn’t want it.

But senior managers persuaded him against dropping the popular community event altogether. There’s an established procedure, and for the work, they could recruit their event partner, the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association.

RIVAA had the passion and willingness Haynes lacks. More than one senior staffer refers to him as simply “lazy.”

‘I don’t know what he does up there with the shades drawn all day.”

But with a late start and volunteer staff picking up the pieces, Fall for Arts was limited to the Rivercross Lawn, a single location, without any of the past extensions of music and food in Southpoint.

Shrinking Community Events

FIGMENT NYC was a coup for Roosevelt Island when then RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal snagged it away from Governors Island in 2018.

Visitors along with Roosevelt Islanders streamed north to Lighthouse Park along both promenades. That was a win in itself as it exposed them to the larger community that got skipped over with other events.

Erica Spencer EL with Jessica Cerone at FIGMENT NYC in Lighthouse Park. Haynes fired both longtime employees last winter without any public explanation. The community event likewise disappeared without a word from Haynes.

For this year, the pandemic lifting, FIGMENT NYC swung open again – on Staten Island.

Also Disappearing: The Parades

Two of Roosevelt Island’s most popular annual events, sending kids and young at heart parading up Main Street, disappeared. The first, kicking off the Little League season, vanished without a word or apology.

But probably the most disappointing was the loss of the Halloween Parade. For as long as I’ve been on the Island – 22 years – kids in costumes marched past crowds of onlookers on Main Street.

One year, they paraded happily through the snow to a party in Capobianco Field.

But that’s over now, for reasons unknown. A limited event in Southpoint Park, similar to last year’s pandemic-limited gathering, will be held, according to Haynes.

But pandemic restrictions have been lifted, and there’s no excuse for it.

UPDATE: Community pressure and public shaming forced Haynes to organize the parade after all on short notice. It was a hit.

Although a storm rained out the Halloween Parade in 2019, Haynes’s predecessor recognized the importance. She threw, instead, a community party in Sportspark – and came in costume.

Shrinking Roosevelt Island Day

While features like active exercising led by Island Om uplifted Roosevelt Island Day, a year ago, the community event was shrunk down to a single location, the Rivercross Lawn. There was nothing special for kids, and it appears the Haynes administration will keep it small going forward.

Miniature railroads once ferried kids along the West Promenade, and there were bounce houses for releasing pent-up energy. Swing bands performed for crowds in Good Shepherd Plaza in the afternoon, and jazz groups played for fans on the Meditation Steps.

That’s gone now, maybe permanently or at least until someone who values community events replaces the self-absorbed but Seldom Seen Shelton Haynes.

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