MEATPACKING DISTRICT— Billionaire Barry Diller's decision to scrap his plans for a controversial $250 million island park on the Hudson River marks a "devastating loss" to the community — with only small faction of people living outside the area forcing its demise, said the head of the organization overseeing the project.
The 2.7-acre "floating park" called Pier55 — which would have housed a performing arts venue — was slated to be built off the Hudson River, just below West 14th Street, with a tentative opening set for the spring of 2019.
The plan was backed by the Hudson River Park Trust, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Community Board 2, but stalled amid lawsuits filed by its opponents, who claimed the project hadn't undergone a thorough environmental review and constituted unauthorized use of public park land, among other concerns.
The Trust — the city-state partnership that planned to lease the property to Diller and operate it in cooperation with his company — had recently been in settlement talks with its opponents, but the businessman ultimately decided not to proceed with his plans, the New York Times first reported.
“Because of the huge escalating costs and the fact it would have been a continuing controversy over the next three years, I decided it was no longer viable for us to proceed,” Diller told the paper.
Six years ago, the project had an estimated cost of $35 million, the outlet reported.
Diller, who is married to fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, "lost a lot of money" between the project's costs and the costs of litigation, HRPT president and CEO Madelyn Wils Wils told Community Board 4's Waterfront, Parks and the Environment committee Thursday evening.
"It's emotional for him," Wils said of Diller's decision. "He didn't really want to do this, but... he has a wife and kids, and... I think they just couldn't understand how this could keep going on."
Over the years, Diller's plans were been met with a spate of lawsuits, despite backing from elected officials and the local community board.
Despite the plan being met with a spate of lawsuits, the Trust had been "very close to settling" with Pier55's detractors, Wils noted.
Diller's decision to pull out of the project came as a shock to both sides. Richard Emery, who represents the City Club of New York — one of Pier55's critics — said the club was "totally surprised by this development."
"We thought the negotiations were proceeding to a resolution," Emery said in a statement.
In an email sent to Pier55's backers, Diller stated that a "tiny group of people had used the legal system to essentially drive us crazy and drive us out," the Times reported.
On Thursday, Wils told CB4's committee "a few people who did not live in the community" had killed the project.
"Mr. Diller and his family felt... that they were here to provide something really special, but there were a few — and I want to reiterate, just a few — people who felt differently," she said.
"We just lost the largest gift to a park in the United States... so it's a devastating loss."