Construction Blocked on Billionaire's $130 Million Manic Pixie Dream Park

A rendering of Pier 55EXPAND
A rendering of Pier 55
Heatherwick Studio

An appeals court has blocked the construction of billionaire Barry Diller’s $130 million hood-ornament-on-the-Hudson, five days before the first concrete pilings were scheduled to be set into place.

The City Club of New York had sued to prevent the realization of Pier 55 — a futuristic public park dreamed up by Diller and his wife Diane von Furstenberg with virtually no public input — but a judge dismissed their case in April. The City Club appealed, arguing that Pier 55 was illegally created, and that environmental reviews conducted by the state and the Army Corps of Engineers were inadequate. On Thursday the court agreed to prevent construction on the park from beginning until it makes a decision.

In a statement, the president of the City Club, Michael Gruen, called the stay a "valuable step in ensuring that this secretive and misguided project will not get off the ground, potentially damaging the environment of the Estuarine Sanctuary in which the island would be located, until the courts have definitively determined whether all applicable laws have been complied with."

Gruen told the Voice that he expects the appellate court’s decision to come in September, at the earliest.

Hudson River Park itself is only 72 percent complete, but Diller and von Furstenberg, (with the help of Diana Taylor, Michael Bloomberg’s longtime partner and the chair of the Hudson River Park Trust’s board) came up with a scheme that would build a verdant space hosting "high-quality arts programming" on top of 300 concrete pillars above the Hudson.

Diller is contributing $113 million, while the city and the state are kicking in $17 and $18 million, respectively.

The original suit filed by the City Club points out that Pier55, Inc., the private entity building the park, has "the power to charge whatever they may want to charge for tickets to 49 percent of events held in the structure’s two event spaces."

"The lease…also potentially allows for private memberships to the 'island' for permitted events and shows that the new structure is in fact a semi-private event space," the suit reads.

In the statement on today’s decision, Richard Emery, the attorney for the City Club, said, "This project is illegal because the Hudson River Park Trust cut corners, deceived the Legislature, and gave away public parkland to a private entity without the proper checks and balances." Emery adds that the court's decision "confirms that Diller Island would cause irreparable harm to the Hudson River and to the public, and that we are likely to succeed in stopping it for good."

A representative for Hudson River Park Trust has not yet returned a request for comment. 

[Update 7:08 p.m.] A spokesperson for Hudson River Park Trust sent us this statement:

This time-wasting and out-of-touch lawsuit is an insult not just to the local community board, which overwhelmingly supports this project, but to the New Yorkers from across the city who will enjoy this park for years to come. We're surprised by today's decision, which directly contradicts not only what a Federal District Court Judge ruled yesterday, but the array of State and Federal agencies that unanimously determined the project would not cause any significant adverse environmental impacts – much less any irreparable harm. It has become dishearteningly clear that this case has nothing to do with environmental impacts, and not once have the plaintiffs produced an expert who can say the project will cause environmental harm. Rather, this lawsuit is simply about a small group of people who want to determine – outside the public process – how the Hudson River Park Trust is governed and how Mr. Diller’s money should be spent.

And a spokesperson for Pier55 Inc. sent us this statement:

By continuing its misguided crusade, the City Club is obstructing the will of the local community and undermining a much-needed effort to create new public parks in New York City. This is a temporary delay for a project that has won approval from all levels of government and consistently withstood legal scrutiny. We are committed to making Pier55 a reality and providing nearly three acres of public green space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.

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