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Barry Diller Will Make Money From Pier55 Nonprofit, Project Foes Argue

By Danielle Tcholakian | September 6, 2016 6:35pm
 There will be grassy knolls on Pier 55.
There will be grassy knolls on Pier 55.
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Pier55 Inc/Heatherwick Studio

FLATIRON — Opponents of the Barry Diller-backed floating island park known as Pier55 attempted to persuade Appellate Division judges Tuesday that the media mogul will make money off of the nonprofit he formed to support the park.

The $130 million Pier55 is expected to hold an amphitheater amid undulating hills and walking paths on a brand new pier between the old pilings of Pier 55 and Pier 56 off West 13th Street in Hudson River Park.

PHOTOS: Pier55 Renderings Reveal Hills for Sunbathing and Sledding

The pier can't be built, however, because of a preliminary injunction that came out of the lawsuits brought against the project by the City Club of New York.

The City Club lost an initial suit in April, but appealed and filed two additional lawsuits against state and federal agencies that approved the project.

Judge Dismisses Pier 55 Lawsuit as Being 'Without Merit'

When lawyers for City Club and the Hudson River Park Trust appeared before the Appellate Division on Tuesday, the panel of judges questioned them on issues with the environmental assessment of the project and whether the opponents even have standing to bring the lawsuit, and heard allegations that Diller could profit from the performances held at the park.

City Club's lawyer Richard Emery argued that a page in the Trust's lease turning the land over to Diller's nonprofit allows it to keep proceeds from any recordings of performances.

When a judge turned to Trust lawyer David Paget, he declared Emery's claims "outrageous" and "scurrilous."

"The lease makes plain there is not a dollar of funds to be realized," Paget said. "All of the funds realized are to be [reserved] for the park project."

The pro bono lawyer for Diller's nonprofit, Pier 55, Inc., asked the judges to lift the preliminary injunction prohibiting work on the project, which currently has a deadline of Oct. 31, when a verdict is expected.

"If we can't get piles in, we'll lose a whole year," attorney Marc Wolinsky said. "Even a delay of two or three weeks really jeopardizes our ability to get the project done."

The preliminary injunction was already modified to allow nine piles to be driven in, but Wolinsky said they need to do 46 more in order to stay on track with their construction plan and be able to unveil the park in 2019.

Diller attended the hearing but declined to comment after the court proceedings, and asked not to be photographed riding away on his Vespa.

The media mogul told the New York Times that his opponents in the suit are being backed financially by Douglas Durst, a former supporter of the park who was pushed out of the park's advocacy group, Friends of Hudson River Park, in 2011.

Michael Gruen, president of the City Club, would not say whether or not Durst is providing financial support for the suit, insisting that "a first principle" of his organization "is not to discuss who gives to us and how much and anything of that nature."

"People often feel it’s confidential. In saying this, I don’t deny, I don’t agree, I’m simply not commenting," Gruen said.

Asked if he thought it was ironic that he was being secretive in relation to a court case in which he is arguing the importance of transparency, Gruen said, "it's a completely different situation."

"I think when you’re talking about a government institution such as the Trust, you have statutory requirements of total transparency and an obligation to the general public. We don’t quite have that same set of obligations," Gruen said.

A spokesman for the Trust issued a statement saying, “We’re eager to move forward with a spectacular public park that was strongly supported by the local community board and respected civic organizations, and approved by an array of state and federal agencies."

"We’re confident the court will rule in our favor and we’ll resume construction soon," spokesman James Yolles said.