By George Capsis
On that glorious morning, when we savored the first Trump defeat, I read what could be—THE court order that might, at last, sink Diller Island. Oh joy!
The story goes that Diller Island began more than two years ago with an invitation from budget-strapped Madelyn Wils, who heads the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT), to $2.9 billion billionaire Barry Diller to review her suggested ameba-shaped island rendering as a replacement for the decaying 13th Street entertainment venue, Pier 55. At the time, Barry had just given $30 million to the High Line, and as the former head of Paramount, was certainly our local Mr. Show Business—the very man to fund the island and plan sell-out concerts as well.
Barry smiled, made polite noises, and went off to expose the idea to some of his show biz acquaintances, like producer Scott Rudin and director Mike Nichols. Barry’s contribution started at $130 million and it has now reached $160 million. With an additional $40 million from the HRPT, the budget is now $200 million. Barry then came back with a grossly monstrous design by very much in-fashion British “designer” Thomas Heatherwick. The design contained 300 enormous bulbous mushroom-shaped forms holding up a floppy 2.7-acre concrete island with, miraculously, lots of trees and greenery on it. I mean, how do you plant a 40-foot tree in concrete?
Please note that Heatherwick is a designer, not an architect. He emerged to fame with his centerpiece for the London Olympics—a bouquet of enormous, metal lily-like shapes, each with a flame. Later, this piece was challenged by another designer as a knock-off.
What Cuomo, de Blasio, and our gaggle of lesser politicos saw, with much relief, was somebody offering $130 million. They ignored the fact that we, the tax payers, would have to build out the embankment and run two bridges across to the Diller ticket booths (maybe $30 million in cost) and then assume maintenance of the bloated, avatar-like, concrete mushroom forms that would be washed daily by five-and-a-half feet of green tidal crude.
Fighting Diller Island has been The City Club of New York (they saved Grand Central) and one of the loudest voices is Tom Fox who once had Madelyn Wils’ job as the head of the HRPT. It is also claimed that realtor Doug Durst opposed the plan and had brief control of the Friends of Hudson River Park but was eased out. Who knows, but somebody has been paying those huge legal bills.
The original Park Charter stated that it would maintain the Hudson River Estuary natural habitat and that it would encourage its continuance. The City Club of New York argued that Diller Island was not water-dependent and that they might, for example, use the 15-acre Pier 40 for entertainment events.
Lawsuit after lawsuit has been thrown out until now, when the brief returned to the wording of the original charter which asks to preserve the natural ecosystem of the Hudson River Estuary. Therefore, the permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been canceled and building has stopped.
Please forgive me, but I must repeat myself here.
Two years ago, when we saw the first photos of the Diller Island model, we felt that the enormous, bulbous concrete shapes, on which the limp island would be draped starting at 75 feet above the water on the West Side, would be outrageously expensive and difficult to build. I then asked architect Brian J. Pape to obtain some cost estimates and they were shocking.
Our estimates were confirmed when Heatherwick’s people finally got around to calculating their own estimates. We also learned that the contractor found the design forbiddingly arbitrary and that the actual formation of these bloated swimming pool-sized shapes would have to take place over water. They would only offer a cost-plus contract, meaning that they would charge whatever it cost to build it and then put their profit on top of it, which arrangement is of course financial immolation—they cut piles and they flattened the whole thing.
Oh, I hope that is the end of Diller Island.
But just think what our community could do with $200 million. Kenneth Langone gave $200 million to NYU and they named the hospital after him. In this issue, you may read that Mount Sinai has been slicing away at Beth Israel Hospital, even cutting the Cath Lab that saved Arthur’s life just a few weeks ago.
I will send a copy of this issue to Barry’s office on 17th Street, which overlooks the site where Diller Island was supposed to be built. There, he can also see the north side of Pier 40 on which Arthur Schwartz has asked that we build a hospital—our hospital.
WestView readers, now it is your chance: Ask neighbor Barry Diller how best you would like him to spend $200 million. We will print some of the best answers…