Old Smallpox Hospital Transforms Into Island Park
Roosevelt Island is not a traditional destination for city tourists, but a massive park renovation may create a must-see destination. Manhattan reporter Rebecca Spitz filed the following report.
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Piles of dirt and big machinery on Roosevelt Island are a clear giveaway that construction is happening on crews have broken ground on the nine-acre Southpoint Park, a project designed as an escape for visitors and the island's 14,000 residents.
"When the Trust for Public Land came and visited this site in 2004, we said this is one of the most spectacular sites in New York City for a park," said Andy Stone of TPL.
They deemed the site "spectacular" because it lies between Manhattan and Queens, with vistas in both directions.
The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, the state agency which runs the island and its facilities, asked TPL to oversee the park's creation and together they secured $13.4 million for the park's construction.
"Jessica Lappin, who's our [City] Council member, got us $4.5 million through the city, we've gotten about $4.9 million from the state of New York and RIOC is $4.5 million," said Rosina Abramson of RIOC.
About a third of the money went towards repairs on what will be a focal point in Southpoint Park - the remains of James Renwick's Smallpox Hospital, built in 1854 but not used since the 1950s.
It is the only ruin in the city that has been given landmark status and when it started to fall apart, it had to be shored up as quickly as possible.
"Park planning was well underway in December 2007 when the north wall of this building collapsed, which really called attention to the fact if the money wasn't invested now in restoring this ruin it wouldn't be here for future generations," said Stone.
Stone said the restoration process is painstaking and delicate, since every piece that fell down had to catalogued, and there are hundreds of pieces still waiting to be reattached.
"We've never had anyone come back and say they weren't glad to have come down to the Southpoint. They really come back and say 'Wow, I didn't know that existed,'" said Judith Berdy of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.
Construction is slated to wrap up in a little more than a year. Officials are hoping to welcome visitors here to the ruin and to Southpoint Park in late summer 2010, just in time for the 40th anniversary of the development of Roosevelt Island's residential communities.