Pier 55, the performance space planned for a floating man-made island in the Hudson River south of Midtown, was declared dead Wednesday by its chief underwriters, IAC chief Barry Diller and his wife, the clothing designer Diane von Furstenberg. Diller pulled the plug on the ambitious project – for which he had enlisted the support of producer Scott Rudin and, for artistic guidance, director George C. Wolfe – after six years of planning, investment and navigating roadblocks put up by a faction of groups opposed to the space. During that time, its budget had metastasized from $35 million to $250 million with no end in sight.
“It’s very frustrating,” Wolfe understated Wednesday, in a brief interview with Deadline.
The plan for Pier 55 was enthusiastically embraced by New York city and state officials when it was unveiled in November 2011. The design by British architect Thomas Heatherwick was set on a platform over the river and included park and performance spaces. But the partners soon ran afoul of environmentalists who claimed the project had been moving forward without proper research into its impact on the river, and without any public discussion. It later turned out that a rival of Diller’s, real estate mogul Douglas Durst, had secretly been financing the opposition to the project.
However, the plan also was moving forward at the same time as another large-scale arts-related development, the Culture Shed (now known simply as the Shed), an equally ambitious performance and exhibition space located in the vast Hudson Yards development just blocks from the Pier 55 site. The Shed also is a private project being heavily underwritten with public money that included an unprecedented $75 million budget allocation from the city.
This week, with negotiations still underway, Diller informed Madelyn Wils, the president of the Hudson River Park Trust, that he was through, according to The New York Times.
“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 Times. In an email message, Rudin declined to comment.
“We are deeply saddened by this news — not simply because this would’ve been one of the world’s greatest piers, but because this was a project the community so resoundingly wanted, and that millions would one day enjoy,” Wils said in a statement released Wednesday evening. “Instead, it was thwarted by a small handful of people who decided they knew better. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Diller-von Furstenberg family for their generosity and for dreaming big with us on the public’s behalf. While work continues on exciting projects like piers 26 and 57, we’re now left with a big hole to fill where we hoped to build the crown jewel of Hudson River Park.”
Diller and Von Furstenberg were earlier responsible for the transformation of a rusted, derelict railway bed a mile and a half long that once serviced the warehouses lining the West Side along the river into the enormously popular High Line Park. But such projects have led to concern among some about the price ultimately paid for turning public spaces over to private developers in semi-autonomous arrangements.