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Douglas Durst cops to funding lawsuits against Pier 55

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The real estate scion was first floated as a funding source for the lawsuits in September

Rendering courtesy Pier 55 Inc.

The futuristic floating park planned for Pier 55 on Manhattan’s far west side has been beset with legal woes practically since its inception. The Hudson River Park Trust’s aspiring entertainment pier found a foe in the City Club of New York, a small civic club with well-documented financial woes that first started lobbing pricey lawsuits to halt the pier in the summer of 2015.

After several back-and-forth rounds in the State Supreme Court Appellate Division, the park’s major donor, media mogul Barry Diller, began to publicly speculate over who was actually behind the lawsuits. Diller, who together with wife Diane Von Furstenburg have championed the redevelopment of Manhattan’s far west side and serve as the High Line’s biggest private donor, told the Times in September that he believes developer Douglas Durst to be the money train funding the City Club’s judicial activities.

That claim has gone unsubstantiated, but local rag The Villager now says that Durst has confirmed to the paper in an exclusive interview that he has indeed poured funds into the legal battle against Pier 55. (Curbed has reached out to the Durst Organization for comment.)

“I haven’t been involved in the [Pier 55] lawsuits in over six months—maybe even longer,” Durst told The Villager. “And my role was very limited in it.” According to Durst, environmental protection group Riverkeeper was the initial purse behind Pier 55 litigation, until the group was pressured to drop the lawsuit by two of its largest donors. The suit was then assumed by two City Club members, which is the point when Durst came in.

“The reason I did not want my name involved is I did not want this to be a personal battle between me and Barry Diller,” Durst told The Villager. “I have nothing against Diller—except he said he wishes I had been killed by my brother,” the accused murderer and estranged family scion Robert Durst.

To date, the City Club has filed five suits to stop the construction of Pier 55. The latest development surrounding those suits came in late March, when a United States District Court judge ruled in favor of the club’s lawsuit arguing that the impact of construction on wildlife was not taken into proper consideration. As a result, construction on the pier was halted.

The Villager says that the Hudson River Park Trust along and the Army Corps of Engineers now has until May 22 to say whether they plan to appeal the ruling. If they fail to appeal, the project would have to go through a redesign and start from square one with the approval and permitting process.

Michael Novogratz, chairperson of the Friends of the Hudson River Park, the group that spearheads fundraising for Pier 55, fumed over the Durst’s alleged funding of the lawsuits. “It’s completely obstructionist,” he told The Villager, “Good public citizenship doesn’t mean getting in the way of something just to feel relevant.”

So why would a real estate titan from a family worth billions be hell-bent on destroying the pier? Per our previous coverage:

Durst, a donor to and former chairman of the Friends of Hudson River Park which oversees fundraising for the four-mile-long stretch that Pier 55 would become a part of, was unceremoniously ousted from his position on the board when former NYCEDC exec Madelyn Wils was appointed as chief executive of the trust in 2011.

The Times notes that "[t]hough Mr. Durst publicly said then that he had agreed ‘to step down for the benefit of the park,’ making way for others who could donate or solicit more money, he seethed in an unpublished interview at what he saw as the highhandedness of the trust’s leadership."

According to The Villager, a Durst spokesperson noted at the time that Durst is “still deeply committed to the park, but has a different vision from the Trust of how to move the park forward.”