The suckiness of Main Street on Roosevelt Island is longstanding but has reached new, disappointing levels today. We – the community, RIOC, Hudson-Related – must do better. New people land here every day, but Main Street misses out, especially in the Canyon.
by David Stone
It took a bone-jarring ride down Main Street in a Lyft to wake me up again to the stream of neglect and failure that never ends. Empty and unmarked storefronts pockmark the so-called commercial strip.
Promises have failed, but no one has come up with a new solution.
Asked about Hudson-Related’s plans for the space being vacated with Dr. Jack Resnick’s retirement, a spokesman said, “We are focusing on finding a replacement medical practice to continue serving the RI community.”
It’s the same old song: How Long Has This Been Going On?
Not a Big Hit Anymore
Well over a decade ago, in a deal that smelled of selfish compromise, RIOC‘s board approved a contract with Hudson-Related, giving them rights to commercial spaces all along Main Street. Hudson President David Kramer will always be haunted by a statement quoted in the Wall Street Journal.
“We’re going to shock and awe,” he said, dragging up an unfortunate wartime cliche.
Within a couple of years marked by evictions without replacements, it was clear that the shock was not a positive jolt. And the “awe” became something like “Awww…” as valued local businesses closed up, many in deep debt to RIOC.
The root causes are deep and shouldn’t be forgotten.
Vacating business owners had similar complaints: “RIOC promised I’d get all this foot traffic,” and eager small businesses fell for it.
And the painful con even caught up Kramer.
After Urgent Care abruptly vacated, I asked him why he was pursuing another, similar tenant.
“Because I think a town of 14,000 should have a medical facility,” he said.
He’d fallen for the RIOC con.
Roosevelt Island has never had 14,000 residents. That number was pitched by RIOC in luring businesses and the local newspaper in selling over-priced ads. But it wasn’t true then and is not now.
Pitching the phony figure began when the population was still well under 10,000 and remains under 12,000 today.
When you realize that RIOC and Hudson-Related negotiated rents based on that figure, the failures can’t be solely based on bad business models.
Some Rays of Hope
Signs of success on Main Street are there, but they’re few. Main Street Theatre and Dance does well in an expanded space, and ME – the Mediterranean Eatery – is a success and looks like it.
A recent makeover at Bread & Butter Market shows that innovation succeeds with strong investments.
But then, you’ve got the head shop that sold dope illegally across from the sleepy Public Safety headquarters. And then, there’s the list of storefronts without professional looks or signage, led – sadly – by RIOC.
Compare to RIOC’s gloomy efforts…
What Can Be Done About Main Street?
Because other communities and some local businesses do better, we’ll leave you with some thoughts:
- Require professional signage in every storefront, including RIOC’s, and make it stick.
- Hey, RIOC/Hudson-Related, why not stage more community events on Main Street?
- Reducing car traffic increases foot traffic. A thoroughfare overrun by speeding motorized bikes ignoring stop signs and crosswalks will always fail. An abundance of double-parked cars and trucks isn’t just ugly, it’s a safety hazard.
- Break up the view with colorful signs and banners. It’s a cheap method of humanizing space.
- Get community police officers out of cars, walking and meeting residents on Main Street. Hanging out in the office isn’t community policing but a money-sucking failure of leadership.
- Scraping the frost off RIOC’s windows could go a long way toward showing that the community staff residents pay for is working – or confirm that very few are.
- Bring storefront rents closer to reality. Charging RIOC 3X what the previous tenant paid is not a good example. Of anything.
We’re confident that some readers have more and even better ideas, and we hope you will share.