Southpoint Park Plan Complete for Roosevelt Island

New York, 3/15/2005: The Trust for Public Land has finalized a Conceptual Master Plan for Southpoint Park following months of interviews, public meetings, internet-based feedback, and consultation with experts. The new park is proposed for the southern tip of Roosevelt Island under the 59th Street Bridge across from Midtown Manhattan. The plan will be presented to the Roosevelt Island Operating Coalition (RIOC) at their mid-March board meeting.

TPL hired former Riverside Park Administrator Charles McKinney and the landscape architecture firm Mark K. Morrison Associates to prepare a master plan for this site after being approached by the State of New York and RIOC for assistance in late 2003.

The Wild Gardens/Green Rooms plan, which received overwhelming public support, is a naturalistic park comprised of a series of themed landscaped “green rooms,” providing the visitor with a diversity of educational, cultural, restorative, and recreational activities. This concept includes rustic stone architecture, a caf? space within the stabilized ruin, specialized winter-interest landscapes, a performance space on the tip of the island, and possibly ice-skating adjacent to the ruins.

“Participants in the design process stressed their preference for retaining and enhancing Southpoint’s natural qualities and its unique connections to the river. The strongest support was for the elements included in the Wild Garden/Green Rooms conceptual design,” said McKinney.

The process began with the development of a vision and series of goals for the site based on interviews with community leaders, input from a new TPL Roosevelt Island advisory council of experts and local stakeholders, and a survey of users of the site in its current state. In the fall, TPL presented three design alternatives at two public meetings for evaluation by more than 100 residents.

The area is arguably the most spectacular undeveloped land in the city. Yet, despite 30 years of talk and proposals, the land lies fallow and the stunning landmark ruins of the 19th century Smallpox Hospital, designed by James Renwick (architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral) and central to the park site, fall further into disrepair.

While a full-scale development of the Wild Gardens/Green Room plan would cost between $30 and $40 million, TPL also developed a Phase I implementation plan to provide basic park amenities and stabilize the ruins for a cost of roughly $12 million. This step would stabilize the site and the fast-deteriorating, landmark ruins of James Renwick’s smallpox hospital, and provide basic park infrastructure. Lead funding from the state and RIOC will be necessary to move forward.

While the master plan was in the works, a long-discussed design by architect Louis Kahn to build a Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial on a portion of the site was highlighted in an exhibition at The Cooper Union in Manhattan. The Kahn proposal was included in one of the three design alternatives presented for feedback. Although there is mounting support for this plan among the architectural community, this alternative was not widely supported by those who would use the park. The Phase I implementation of the Wild Gardens/Green Rooms plan, however, involves only modest alterations for the area covered by the proposed FDR Memorial, and does not preclude the possibility of this memorial being built at a later stage if supporters of the memorial can raise the necessary funding and attain the necessary public support.