a project under construction

Spiffing Up Roosevelt Retail

By Eliot Brown

A drab, poorly performing strip of state-owned retail on Roosevelt Island is set to go private.

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. said Wednesday that it intends to award a 30-year lease on the state’s approximately 100,000 square feet of retail to the team of Hudson Cos. and Related Cos., which would share income with the state agency.

For decades, the retail space on the slim, 150-acre island has been an oddity in New York real estate. Set against dull concrete apartment buildings, the 34-store strip has suffered from high vacancy. Residents have long complained about the quality and mix of the stores. Low-rent operations such as delis and non-profit organizations dominate the leased storefronts, many of which are marked by austere red signs with uniform white lettering on their fronts.

The retail space, which runs along the central strip of the northern end of the island, is a vestige from another era. Four decades ago, the state oversaw the build-out of the island at the time as a planned community geared toward low- and middle-income residents.

Officials at the state-run agency have been frustrated as well, saying they have been hamstrung by regulations that add onerous procedures before they can sign any leases.

Community reaction has factored in as well. Once the agency was forced to scrap plans to bring a Dunkin’ Donuts to the island after residents protested because it would displace an art gallery that wasn’t paying rent.

“This has really been the big thing on this island that’s never worked,” said Jonathan Kalkin, a director on the state agency’s board. “We’re excited to finally take this albatross off our neck, and let this place thrive.”

Hudson-Related would guarantee the state agency the existing revenue it collects from the property—about $900,000—and the developers would split additional income with the state, people involved in the deal said. The team would also put new money in to modernize the retail.

“We’re gonna do shock and awe,” said David Kramer, principal at Hudson. “The retail space hasn’t gotten the time and the attention and investment it needs.”

The Hudson-Related team was the only bidder for the retail space in its entirety. The same team has developed multiple buildings on the southern half of the island, which, in contrast to the northern half, is privately owned.

Leslie Torres, president of the state agency, said she expected the deal would be finalized by the summer. “Hopefully we’ll get filled up and revenue coming in,” she said.


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