Diller Island just became Shuttered Island, and that’s a shame.
This was an ambitious plan to build a floating park on the Hudson River off West 13th Street. Pier 55, its official name, was to have stood on pilings in the river, an undulating platform lushly landscaped and dotted with stages for music, dance and theater. It came to be nicknamed Diller Island because the costs — most recently put at an eye-popping $250 million — were to be underwritten by the media billionaire Barry Diller and his wife, the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.
All that is now a dream deferred. Mr. Diller said this week that he was shutting it down because he’d had enough of fast-rising costs and of court fights that lasted several years and seemed destined to continue. A “tiny group” of opponents, he said, had “used the legal system to essentially drive us crazy and drive us out.”
On one level, this was a battle of the mega-rich. It pitted Mr. Diller against Douglas Durst, the New York real estate titan. Mr. Durst has been the money behind the opposition, which consisted mainly of a small civic group and a few allies. They objected to Pier 55 as supposedly having been conceived in secrecy and intended as a playground for the affluent that would disturb aquatic life in the Hudson.
Yet the project, supervised by the Hudson River Park Trust, had ample blessings elsewhere. The Army Corps of Engineers, which evaluated the environmental consequences, gave it a permit. It also had support from the local community board and from an array of elected officials, including both the governor and the mayor; most days, those two can barely agree on the color of the sky. As for concerns about Pier 55 becoming a preserve for the wealthy, Mr. Diller and the park trust insisted that at least half the arts performances would be free or set at prices low enough to be welcoming to the public.
There is a familiar dynamic in New York when the well-heeled put their money behind a new idea: an assumption that something untoward is afoot, including a creeping privatization that must be resisted. Sometimes that is indeed the case. But there’s no evidence it was so this time.
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