Nine piles pounded for Pier55; But antis set to argue ‘Nein!’

Construction workers recently installing nine piles for Pier55, a small fraction of the more than 500 that would be needed for the full project.
Construction workers recently installing nine piles for Pier55, a small fraction of the more than 500 that would be needed for the full project.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Pier55 Inc. and the Hudson River Park Trust really want to pound home the message — they have finished pounding in the first nine piles that will support Pier55, the dazzling “arts island” planned for the Hudson River Park off of W. 13th St.

“We’re thrilled to be taking the first steps in what will become a transformative public park for the community,” said Celine Armstrong, project manager for Pier55 Inc., in a statement released last Wednesday. “We look forward to continuing construction this fall and making Pier55 a reality for all New Yorkers.”

However, the nine piles — which are intended to hold up a small wedge-shaped platform along the Hudson River shoreline — are just a fraction of the total of 547 piles that would have to be driven into the Hudson riverbed in order to support the full project.

The ambitious project — which will rise up to a height of six stories at one point — currently faces a stubborn legal challenge. Earlier this summer, an Appellate Division judicial panel enforced an injunction against the project, but then partially lifted it to allow only the pounding of the small number of piles. Had these nine piles not been installed this summer, it actually would have set the project back a full year, due to restrictions on pounding piles in the river from October to March.

The complaint, by the City Club of New York, will be heard in court this Tuesday.

The Pier55 project, announced in November 2014, is a partnership between the Trust and Pier55 Inc., a nonprofit organization established by Barry Diller’s and Diane von Furstenberg’s Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation. The local power pair have pledged to fund $113 million of the $130 project.

Plans for Pier55 call for 2.7 acres of undulating, landscaped new public park and performance space, which will be linked to the shoreline Hudson River Park by two pedestrian bridges.

Under a lease, the nonprofit Pier55, Inc., or P55, to be chaired by Diller, would fund the new pier’s programming, operations and day-to-day maintenance for 20 years, with an option to extend this another 10 years, bringing Diller and von Furstenberg’s total commitment to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Trust and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation have agreed that 51 percent of the performance events on the pier would be free or low cost and 49 percent could charge market-rate admission.

In addition to featuring arts and educational programming, the plan is for Pier55 to foster partnerships with schools and will provide opportunities for emerging local talent.

Pier55 is slated to be completed in 2019.

Tom Fox, one of the plaintiffs in the City Club case, told The Villager in July that pounding the nine piles before the lawsuit is resolved was a “risky act.”

“If they lose, they have to pull them,” he said of the nine preliminary piles. “This is another risky act by the Trust and another potential waste of scarce resources.”

Speaking this Tuesday, Fox said that, in preparation, for next week’s court date, their lead attorney, Richard Emery, and the rest of their legal team on Thursday would present their arguments in a “moot court” rehearsal, to go through all possible scenarios that could arise.

“It’s a little too early to do the victory dance,” Fox said of the Trust and Pier 55, Inc.’s announcement. “And it’s not the last court, either,” he added.

The suit could still be appealed to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, if needed.

“This is a labor of love. People are committed,” said Fox, who led the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the Trust’s predecessor agency, during the 5-mile-long park’s early planning stages.

The longtime waterfront park activist also expressed concern that Governor Andrew Cuomo, by issuing a statement in support of the project after the injunction earlier this summer, has ratcheted up the pressure on the court to allow the high-profile project to proceed — despite the lawsuit’s host of environmental and procedural arguments against it.

Among other charges, the suit notably contends that the Trust neglected to put the public-private project out to bid, as mandated by the Hudson River Park Act, the park’s founding legislation.

As to accusations by some of the project’s boosters that developer Douglas Durst, former chairperson of the Friends of Hudson River Park, is surely funding the lawsuit in a grudge against the Trust, Fox said the City Club is funding it. Fox and Durst were former partners in New York Water Taxi, though Fox took a buyout a number of years ago.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Pier55 said, “We are confident the court will rule in favor of Pier55, which has already been approved by Community Board 2, the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The City Club has consistently failed to make any credible arguments in its crusade against the will of many New Yorkers who want to see a new park in their community. We look forward to making Pier55 a reality and providing nearly 3 acres of public parkland for all New Yorkers to enjoy.”

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly said that 51 percent of events on Pier55 will be completely free. In fact, they will be either free or low cost.