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Meet ‘Little Island’: The $250M floating park on the Hudson River

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The undulating park was designed to mimic a leaf floating on water

‘Little Island,’ formerly known as Pier 55 park.
Timothy Schenck courtesy of The Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation

Manhattanites seeking refuge from the concrete jungle will soon have an undulating urban oasis propped up by concrete pots to visit. The $250 million “floating park” at Pier 55, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, has taken shape this fall with many of its 132 tulip-shaped pots installed on pilings in the Hudson River.

Now, media mogul Barry Diller and his fashion designer wife Diane von Furstenberg have rebranded the park (colloquially known as Diller Island) with a new moniker: Little Island.

The elevated park, which is situated in Hudson River Park off of West 13th Street, is intended as a free getaway for New Yorkers with 2.4 acres of green space. Landscape architecture firm MNLA is designing the park and plans to incorporate rolling hills, open lawns, and a curated mix of some 100 species of trees and shrubs to give the feel of an “enchanted forest,” according to Diller.

Parkgoers will access the space via a newly constructed Hudson River Park esplanade.

Aside from greenery, Little Island will feature a 700-seat amphitheater for performances and host yet-to-be-announced arts, educational, and community programming. Diller has a lease agreement with the Hudson River Park Trust that ensures 51 percent of the tickets for the performances will either be free or under $30.

A handful of the tulip-shaped pots that make up the park.
Timothy Schenck courtesy of The Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation

The recent milestones come after years of challenges. Shortly after the project was first unveiled in 2016, the effort faced a series of legal disputes filed by The City Club of New York, citing environmental concerns and accused Diller of building an amenity for wealthy New Yorkers.

Construction work intermittently pushed on, with crews stopping and starting as new challenges were filed and dismissed. Some of those lawsuits, as it turns out, were backed by developer Douglas Durst, who was allegedly ousted from the Friends of Hudson River Park (Durst has maintained that he resigned). Even Mayor Bill de Blasio got involved, urging Durst to back down from funding opposition to the project.

After months of legal stonewalling, it appeared Little Island was dead in the water when Diller pulled his financial support. This time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo intervened, convincing City Club to cease its lawsuits, and even committed $50 million toward completing Hudson River Park; the city matched that commitment.

Since then, construction has continued without a hitch. The project is slated for completion in the spring of 2021.