As Sportspark Re-Opens, Thank Those Who Made It Happen


Later this morning, Sportspark re-opens with an 11:00 a.m. ceremony that already appears to be a dud. After RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes’s aborted effort at evolving the facility from a community athletic center to a profit center, the state agency’s been shooting blanks. But there are a few champions who worked hard, in spite of flawed leadership, in supporting the community.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Far after the date promised by Haynes and his do-nothing board, Sportspark re-opens after months of delays and turmoil. It never had to be like this. The community was firmly behind updating the aging facility, but over the last year, RIOC lost most of them. A disgraceful set of scaled use and membership charges triggered an uproar that brought elected officials in for the rescue.

While several people got the job done on time, Haynes delayed the opening – from last October – in a failed effort at making Sportspark a moneymaker. With massive overstaffing, bloated payrolls and enormous expense, RIOC tried loading too much of the burden on one place.

None-the-less, there are good guys to thank, and that’s what we will focus on.

Sportspark Re-Opens: The Good Guys in Sequence

  • Cornell Tech – Had Cornell Tech never happened, the community would still be stuck with incremental bandages. For the privilege of building on community land outside its main footprint, the school provided RIOC with the millions spent on Sportspark.
  • John O’Reilly – Hired by former CEO Susan Rosenthal because of his experience with infrastructure projects, O’Reilly came through. Despite the facility’s over-design – far more than residents wanted – he brought it to a finish, up and ready for inspections… last August.
  • LiRo – Another gift from Rosenthal, brought in as “Owner’s Representative,” the highly regarded firm worked hand-in-hand with O’Reilly in building an outstanding facility capable of serving Roosevelt Islanders for decades. It’s no fault of theirs – or O’Reilly’s – that it then sat idle for the better part of a year.

The Roosevelt Island Daily is always free to read. But our expenses are not. Publishing has costs beyond the human ones of writing and reporting. We appreciate your generous contribution in support our work. Thank you.

But they needed help…

When Haynes whisked away O’Reilly and the partners that helped complete Sportspark, other promises – like a 2022 opening – went too.

A string of mumbled comments by Haynes at fumbling, tumbling board meetings kept pushing the date back. The reasons began emerging when, in January, Haynes announced two new executives brought in to manage Sportspark. Except that he hired them in November, something The Daily discovered from internet research.

The hires and their backgrounds clearly led to “rebranding” – a favorite term with Haynes – Sportspark as an Equinox-like facility drawing membership from around the city and leaving most Roosevelt Islanders out.

After we exposed the outrageous fees RIOC hoped to collect, the community rallied in protest. Our elected officials heard the call and jumped in.

  • State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright – While political discretion means we will never know what actions she took, we know the results: an 80% reduction in the fees the Hochul/Haynes administration originally sought.
  • State Senator Liz Krueger – Similarly, we will not know exactly what she did, but her pulling powerful strings alongside Seawright did the trick.

Neither elected official stood up to take credit, but their comments praising the change in charges where scathing and appropriately muffled.


Sportspark re-opens today, much grander than what Roosevelt Islanders ever asked for, and under Haynes’s management, it may be nice but another financial drag for the state agency already in financial straits over the money-losing Tram.

The opening ceremony already looks like a dud. After being caught sending exclusive invitations to a list of “valued” individuals, most of them not Roosevelt Islanders, RIOC shifted gears and suddenly welcomed everyone. But a perceived lack of interest in attending spurred it into a splurge of public invitations in the last two days.

The last was especially pathetic. It pleaded for attendance by abandoning scheduling to offer tours for everyone immediately after the event.

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