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Barry Diller's $130M Floating Hudson River Arts Park Wins Approval

By Danielle Tcholakian | February 12, 2015 9:54am
 Renderings of Pier55 depict an amphitheater and hill-covered parkland.
Pier55 Renderings
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CIVIC CENTER — A new $130 million pier with undulating greenery and an outdoor performance venue will be built on the Hudson River, after the Hudson River Park Trust approved the plan in a unanimous vote on Wednesday.

Backed by billionaire Barry Diller and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, Pier55 will feature 2.7 acres of new floating public park space rising from the river near West 14th Street. The pier is expected to open in the spring of 2019, said Madelyn Wils, president of the Trust.

"We are very excited about this project and particularly the commitment to work through and with the community," Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said at Wednesday's Hudson River Park Trust board meeting, speaking on behalf of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

More than half of the performances in the pier's amphitheater will be free or "low-cost," according to the 20-year lease awarded to Diller's P55 nonprofit.

Diller is contributing $113 million to Pier55's construction, and will fund the park's maintenance for 20 years.

Public hearings on the project over the past several weeks have been contentious, and even Wednesday's board meeting was interrupted by a man bearing a sign bemoaning "Another NYC Real Estate Land Grab," who shouted that the board ought to "change the name of the Hudson River Park Trust to the Hudson River Real Estate Group."

In response to the concerns, the Hudson River Park Trust announced a community advisory committee, likely including local residents and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, which would weigh in on the park's arts programming and how performance tickets are disseminated.

P55 and the Trust will also regularly present updates to  Community Board 2 and will monitor noise levels, Wils said.

But so far the community board has not received its requested seat on P55's board of directors, which currently includes Diller, millionaire film producer Scott Rudin, director Stephen Daldry, playwright George C. Wolfe and Kate Horton, who previously worked at the National Theatre in London.

At recent public meetings, some locals worried about what would happen if Diller backed out of the project halfway through. Wils said Wednesday that a portion of the promised funds for both construction and maintenance will be set aside in an account for the Trust, to ensure that the agency gets paid even if the partnership deteriorates.

Residents also raised concerns that the park could be closed to the public for long periods of time for private events.

The amended lease approved on Wednesday clarifies that Pier55 cannot be closed to the public more than five times a month, and Wils promised that such closures would be done sparingly.

The next step in Pier55's development is for the developers to apply for permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.

To give the public "a taste of what's to come," Wils said the Trust may organize public arts performances elsewhere in Hudson River Park while P55 is under construction.