One of NYC's largest developers may want to squash a new park on Manhattan’s west side
The approvals process and construction of Pier 55 on Manhattan’s west side has been snarled by lawsuits since the moment plans for the futuristic floating park were announced. But who exactly is behind these lawsuits? The Times has finally asked the question. The obvious answer is the named plaintiff, City Club of New York, but given the small civic club’s recent history of money woes, that it would be the sole backer of these pricey lawsuits seem unlikely. The Gray Lady offers a much more interesting answer, from Diller himself: could it be Douglas Durst?
The real estate titan and brother to accused murder Robert Durst has reasons to hold a grudge (and dish out millions in legal fees against the park.) Durst, a donor to and former chairman of the Friends of Hudson River Park which oversees fundraising for the four-mile-long stretch that Pier 55 would become a part of, was unceremoniously ousted from his position on the board when former NYCEDC exec Madelyn Wils was appointed as chief executive of the trust in 2011.
The Times notes that "[t]hough Mr. Durst publicly said then that he had agreed ‘to step down for the benefit of the park,’ making way for others who could donate or solicit more money, he seethed in an unpublished interview at what he saw as the highhandedness of the trust’s leadership."
Around the same time Durst was ousted, a chairwoman approached Diller—champion of the far west side and the High Line’s largest private donor—about funding a park. Diller obliged, and in November 2014 plans for the 2.4 acre pier designed by Thomas Heatherwick were unveiled. Diller would fund the $130 million park (whose cost has since ballooned) and pay the operating expense for 20 years.
But since its unveiling, lawsuits large and small have been lobbed at Pier 55 that have prohibited it from moving forward. In June 2015, the City Club sued Diller and Hudson River Park’s governing body over their concerns of the park’s environmental impact. That lawsuit was thrown out in April 2016, but the park still needed approvals from the army corps of engineers. It received that by the end of the month.
Durst hasn’t denied his role in the lawsuits, with the Times noting that they are "an enormously expensive undertaking for an organization that suspended activities in 2003 for lack of money, only to be revived a few years ago..." Behind closed doors, Durst has met with Diller to discuss the pier. Diller notes that Durst has expressed his unhappiness with the trust’s leadership, and has also told Diller that he doesn’t like his process saying that there should be a full environmental review before the pier moves forward. At the end of one of their meetings, Durst reportedly said to Diller "You have my sympathy."
Is there any better ominous sign off for a man on a legal mission to squash his opponent? Probably not.