Close to Tears, HRPT Head Said Costly Litigation Sunk Pier55

Madelyn Wils, head of the Hudson River Park Trust, was candid at Sept. 14’s meeting of the CB4 Waterfront, Parks & Environment Committee. File image courtesy The Villager.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | A day after the news broke that Barry Diller’s Pier55 project was scuttled, Madelyn Wils, head of the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT), lamented the defeat.

“This is devastating to a lot of us, honestly, we just lost the largest gift to a park in the United States and a promise to have programmed it as a not-for-profit, ongoing,” the president and CEO of the Trust said. “So it’s a devastating loss.”

Wils was at Community Board 4’s Waterfront, Parks & Environment Committee meeting on Thurs., Sept. 14 for other Trust business — new vendor Black Tap is slated at Pier 84 and a discussion where the picnic area at the Chelsea Waterside Park would be moved — when co-chair Lowell Kern asked Wils what happened. The New York Times reported on Wed., Sept. 13 that the “entertainment pier” project was dead, and that costs had “ballooned to more than $250 million today from $35 million six years ago.”

One of the reasons for the escalating cost was due to lawsuits. “We were unfortunately defeated — not in the courts,” she said. “We won in the courts. People seem to think somehow we lost in the court, but we didn’t. … But we didn’t win because of the way that you could continue to sue and sue and sue.”

She continued, “Construction now is eight to 10 percent a year so if you figure two and a half years, you’re looking at about 30 percent higher costs and aggravation. … I think Mr. Diller and his family felt eventually that, you know, they were here to provide something really special. … I think that just this week, it just between Mr. Diller’s family, he just felt it was too much, and decided to bow out.”

Wils said Diller, a billionaire who is the chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp, had “lost a lot of money already. The Trust has lost money. He’s lost more, but he has more to lose than we do.”

It is unclear what will happen to that part of the West Side waterfront, which Lowell called an “empty blight.” She said there may one day be a Pier 54.

Diller would continue to support the park in some way, she said. “I don’t think he knows what that means. I mean, it’s emotional for him,” she said. “I think they just couldn’t understand how this could keep going on and so if I say too much more I’m going to cry so I’m not going to say much more.”