Well, that’s a wrap on Diller Island. The New York Times reports that billionaire businessman and philanthropist Barry Diller has officially pulled his financial support for the Thomas Heatherwick-designed “floating park” that would have sat at Pier 55 in Hudson River Park, effectively killing the project.
And the reason will be obvious to anyone who’s followed the park’s saga: Diller cited the lawsuits that have plagued the park from its inception as the driving factor in his decision. In an interview with the Times, Diller said that “the huge escalating costs and the fact it would have been a continuing controversy over the next three years” ultimately made him decide to pull out of the project.
To briefly recap: After the Pier 55 plan, and Diller’s $35 million commitment to build it, was revealed in 2014, it didn’t take long for opponents—specifically from the City Club of New York, a civic group—to file a lawsuit to try and stop it. Thus began a two-year legal battle, with the City Club filing four lawsuits (after the original one was dismissed), all over the environmental impact of the park, which they have maintained was not properly studied. (It was later revealed that developer Douglas Durst was helping fund the City Club’s suits.)
The park had its critics outside of the City Club, too, with opponents claiming it was a place designed for rich rather than ordinary people, potentially noisy, and a project whose creation was not transparent to the public.
Others took issue with the design and functionality of the proposed space. In a 2015 column on the “meme-tecture” of the Pier 55 plan, Curbed’s architecture critic Alexandra Lange called the proposed park a “limited-use bauble,” noting that “the last thing the West Side of Manhattan needs is another financially unsustainable, high-maintenance, passive recreation space.”
In recent months, it looked as though the park might finally be overcoming its obstacles; Mayor Bill de Blasio had voiced his support for the island, and construction had begun, although another lawsuit in July had stymied it.
Ultimately, the controversy proved to be too much for Diller. Even though the Hudson River Park Trust was close to reaching a settlement with the City Club that would have allowed construction to continue, Diller said that he “couldn’t in good faith agree to a settlement agreement as I thought we had done nothing wrong.” And thus, Pier 55 is dead in the water.
Madelyn Wils, the president of the HRPT, released this statement regarding Diller’s decision:
We are deeply saddened by this news -- not simply because this would've been one of the world's greatest piers, but because this was a project the community so resoundingly wanted, and that millions would one day enjoy. Instead, it was thwarted by a small handful of people who decided they knew better. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Diller-von Furstenberg family for their generosity and for dreaming big with us on the public's behalf. While work continues on exciting projects like piers 26 and 57, we're now left with a big hole to fill where we hoped to build the crown jewel of Hudson River Park.