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Earlier this year, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) regarding the steam plant that sits just behind the tram station. Although the RFEI specifically targets real estate developers for the adaptive reuse of the 56,000 square foot space, one self-started community organization had been eyeing the property for over a year. The Friends of the Roosevelt Island Steam Plant (FRISP) hope to transform the building and surrounding vacant land into a Museum for Technology, Art and Science (MOTAAS). Not only would the subject matter be appropriate for the forthcoming Cornell University/Technion campus, the members of FRISP also believe that the steam plant is a piece of history that stands as testament to the technologically innovative spirit of Roosevelt Island.

Last week, Untapped Cities was given a tour of the still-operating steam plant by the executive board of FRISP, including John Weatherhead, Jim Luce, Tad Sudol, and Melinda Iverson. Tad Sudol is an architect and and the president of RIVAA Gallery, a non-profit art center on Roosevelt Island. John describes the steam plant as a potential “mini-Tate,” referencing the popular London museum converted from a power station.

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Indeed, the space has incredible potential with a six floor atrium and a flood of natural light from the windows on the side of the building and a glass ceiling. The elevated walkways also provide interesting accessibility around the space.

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FRISP plans to leave some of the interior machinery intact as part of the museum, similar to SantralIstanbul, a museum in Istanbul’s Bilgi University built out of the first power plant of the Ottoman Empire. There, art is interspersed among rotaries and dials, amidst curious looking dashboards.

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 The first part the Roosevelt Island Steam plant was built in 1932:

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The latter half, with the large atrium, was completed in the 1950s:

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A full basement full of more technological curiosities also exists:

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A sizable plot of land next to the building is accessible currently only through the steam plant:

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Still, there are significant next steps to make a museum into reality here. The building isn’t landmarked, so despite the RFEI, it could still be demolished. There are other competitors in the market for this piece of land, including a nearby sports facility that wants to turn it into another tennis bubble if the building is demolished. Furthermore, this isn’t a joint venture with a RIOC. The RFEI clearly states that “the designated developer would have sole responsibility for obtaining all financing necessary to complete and operate the proposed project. RIOC will not provide any funds or financing.” A second RIOC reports asks for proposals that are “economically feasible and beneficial to the Roosevelt Island community.”

According to the Roosevelt Islander, “RIOC CFO Steve Chironis indicated that the Steam Plant is structurally unsound for adaption and will need to be demolished, estimating the cost at about $7 million and indicating RIOC’s hope that the cost will be paid by NYC.” Let’s hope that the building can be saved and a great cultural amenity can emerge for Roosevelt Island, and the city as a whole.

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich

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