Who’s Really Fighting the Construction of Barry Diller’s Floating Park on the Hudson River?

By
Rendering of Pier 55.

Legal challenges have recently snarled the construction of Pier 55, the free-floating park and performance space in the Hudson River largely financed by IAC chair Barry Diller in partnership with the Hudson River Park Trust. The City Club of New York has been the main thorn in the side of the massive infrastructure project. The good-government group has sued to stop the construction on various grounds, including the failure of Diller’s Pier55 nonprofit and the Trust to conduct a full environmental impact study. But according to a New York Times report, the City Club’s concerns might extend beyond the environment — even beyond preserving the West Side views. Instead, the report suggests, it seems as if another really rich person has stumbled on a way to nurse a grudge via the legal system.

“The backer of all this is one Douglas Durst,” Diller bluntly told the New York Times. Durst, the New York real-estate scion and brother to Robert Durst (yes, that Durst), declined to say whether he’s involved. He replied to the Times by saying, “I do not like the process or the project and I am in favor of the litigation.”

How did Diller decide Durst was the guy holding up Pier 55? Durst was a major donor and one-time board chairman of the Friends of Hudson River Park, which raises money for the Hudson River Park Trust — the organization overseeing Pier 55’s development. In 2011, Durst and some of his fellow board members were forced out, after the group sought to change its fundraising strategy. Per the Times:

Though 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step down for the benefit of the park,” making way for others who could donate or solicit more money, he seethed in an unpublished interview at what he saw as the highhandedness of the trust’s leadership.

During that period*, the Hudson River Park Trust started cavorting with Diller over the rehabilitation of the crumbling Pier 54. Diller reportedly proposed a replacement, the floating 2.4-acre park now known as Pier 55. The plans were first announced in the fall of 2014, with Diller pledging $130 million of the total $170 million price tag. (The Hudson River Park Trust and the city would pick up the rest of the tab, though any costs overruns are to be covered by Diller’s nonprofit.)

Pier 55 got the last of its necessary approvals in April 2016, and construction was set to begin this summer. City Club’s first lawsuit failed to stymie the project, but, at the end of June, the group won an appeal to halt most of the construction until the case could be heard.

The City Club denies that Durst is footing the bill, but the Times gathered a few more pieces of evidence. For example, the attorney representing the City Club is Richard Emery, counsel to Douglas Durst and the Durst Organization during the filming of the Jinx.

Emery said the City Club is making all decisions about litigation. The group has a history of fighting noble causes (versus Tammany Hall at the time of its founding in 1892, for example), and its suit does raise valid concerns about public-private partnerships, such as the apparent lack of a competitive bidding process for the Hudson River site.

According to the Times, the two moguls met at least twice as the suit wove its way to the courts. But, Diller apparently failed to win over Durst and — if he’s really the man behind it — to get City Club to back away from its litigation. The parties go back to court Tuesday.

*This most incorrectly stated that Durst had left Friends of Hudson River Park when the Trust approached Diller about Pier54, and that Richard Emery was counsel to Robert Durst.