Scoopy’s Notebook, Week of Sept. 14, 2017

It was an ambitious idea, but like Westway, Pier55 is another big project on the West Side waterfront that didn’t make it.

Pier55 goes down: Wow! In an epic waterfront defeat only second to the sinking of Westway in 1985, Barry Diller this week pulled the plug on his glittering Pier55 “entertainment pier” project. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the media mogul had sent out an e-mail, saying, in part, a “tiny group of people had used the legal system to essentially drive us crazy and drive us out.” That would be referring to activists from The City Club of New York who repeatedly sued over the project, which was slated to sit off of W. 13th St. in the Hudson River Park, connected to shore by two pedestrian bridges. In a statement, Madelyn Wils, the president and C.E.O. of the Hudson River Park Trust, the waterfront park’s governing authority, said: “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. 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.” (We’re also left with those “bridge trestles to nowhere” that were built during a lull in the City Club’s lawsuits.) As we previously reported, The City Club, Trust and Diller reps were in negotiations, trying to reach a settlement — under which the project could maybe move forward — after the club had recently filed yet another lawsuit. Richard Emery, the City Club’s attorney, said in a statement, “We are totally surprised by this development. We thought the negotiations were proceeding to a resolution. Diller’s decision respects the state Legislature’s intent to protect the Hudson as an estuary rather than an entertainment venue. In the end, all the Trust’s machinations and secret deals backfired, as they were destined to do from the beginning.” Tom Fox, one of the plaintiffs, called us Wednesday to make sure we had the details of how the end of Pier 55 went down, literally. He said the news broke around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. in the afternoon, and that they went to the Times first before The Villager because, he conceded, “They’re the 800-pound gorilla.” That’s O.K. Thanks to Fox, we previously broke the big story of how developer Douglas Durst was funding the City Club’s lawsuits against Pier55. Anyway, Fox reported, “We were working to finalize negotiations today. We were going over the final draft. We were doing this for a month and a half. For the last six weeks I was working on this three or four hours every day — drafts, letters, lawyers, meetings with the Trust. It’s unfortunate that all this time and money were wasted,” he reflected. When they got a phone call announcing the stunning news, he said, “We were blown off our chairs.” Fox said he wasn’t sure if he could tell us what the terms of the court settlement would have been since they would have been confidential, and he would have to check with their lawyer about that. “If the Trust had followed a public planning process and done a full environmental review, this would have been over by now,” he noted. “We didn’t have any problem with Mr. Diller’s generosity or the arts.” Diller would have funded most of the pier’s quarter-billion-dollar construction cost and all of its future operating costs, and a nonprofit he headed would have programmed the pier’s performances. “The problem was it was in the water,” Fox explained. “It was a nonwater-dependent use. You don’t have to have a theater in the water. They’ve run out of property in Manhattan — now they want to go into the water. … It shows that environmental laws have teeth,” he said of the final outcome. However, he took exception to the Times calling the City Club fighters “a small band of critics.” “It’s basically a small group of people who are able to get the courts to enforce environmental legislation,” he corrected. The battle really had centered on two basic points, Fox said: “One, this is a public park. Two, this is a special habitat.” Told that this victory surely ranks right up there with the win against the hated Westway landfill-and-tunnel megaproject, Fox stated, “I’ve been fortunate to have participated in both.” Michael Novogratz, the chairperson of the Friends of Hudson River Park, had blasted Fox and Co. as “crusty” washed-up waterfront activists for daring to challenge “Diller Island.” And Diana Taylor, chairperson of the Trust’s board of directors, had slammed Fox as just desperately trying to stay “relevant” after he had criticized the Trust on what he deemed its sleight-of-hand changes to its Pier 57 plan. But Fox and his fellow City Club activists, as he told us, prefer to refer to themselves as “the old lions.” Well, the lions sure roared — and they won! “It shows the old lions have teeth,” Fox told us Wednesday, “and we are willing to engage” (i.e., to bite!). Also of interest in the Times article, by Charles Bagli, was some more info on how the ill-fated Pier55 project came to be in the first place: “Mr. Diller said the idea was born in November 2011,” the Times article reports. “It came at a party for the High Line, to which he and Ms. [Diane] von Furstenberg have been major donors. Diana Taylor, the chairwoman of the Hudson River Park Trust, whispered to him, ‘I’ve got your next project.’ The 875-foot Pier 54, at the foot of 13th Street, was slowly falling into the Hudson. Mr. Diller said Ms. Taylor later showed him a proposed amoeba-shaped replacement ‘with a few trees’ and an estimated cost of $35 million.” The project’s cost would, of course, eventually mushroom to $250 million…and, no doubt, still counting! Hey…rooftop party at Susan Brownmiller’s place on Jane St. to celebrate?

Carlina Rivera, “the hot one on Avenue C.” Photo by Sarah Ferguson

Primary notes: East Village journo Sarah Ferguson was out at the polls Tuesday, and bumped into Councilmember Rosie Mendez. Their talk eventually turned to the late-breaking news story about Carlina Rivera and her husband, Jamie Rogers, chairperson of Community Board 3, and their Section 8 apartment. Ferguson said that Mendez conceded that Rivera and Rogers having been residing in a Section 8 apartment slated for families earning $60,000 or less — while not illegal — was not a good optic going into Tuesday’s race. The New York Post had splashed photos of Rogers crewing on the yacht of his father, a retired partner at the white-shoe law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, who used to oversee billion-dollar mergers. “I told them they needed to move before the campaign,” Mendez told Ferguson. “She was working nights for me [as a legislative aide] and some days — I couldn’t give her time off from her job for the campaign — and so they just didn’t find something that they could afford in time. But they have also said that if she wins, she’ll move,” Mendez added. Rivera grew up in the apartment on Stanton and Ridge Sts., and after she married Rogers in late 2015, he moved in with her, opting to rent the co-op apartment he owns on Grand St., which he purchased in 2012. While Rogers’s apartment is within the lines of Community Board 3, it is outside Council District 2 — which explains why Rivera would not have wanted to move there. Campaign manager Pedro Carrillo didn’t want to go there when asked whether he was worried the stink over the apartment and Rogers’s wealthy background would derail Rivera’s bid. “I think people are intelligent enough to look at her qualifications and not concentrate on his family life,” he said. “This race was always about her and her qualifications, not his. We’re focused on running a very energized, positive campaign.” Of course, Rivera went on to win handily, taking more than 60 percent of the vote. Also regarding Rivera: Was it her looks or progressive chops that boosted her in Tuesday’s primary? Ferguson was passing by C-Squat, where Eden Brower a.k.a. local blogger “Slum Goddess” was sitting on the front steps, taking in the scene. Brower told her, “All day long we’ve been hearing, ‘I’m going to vote for the hot one on Avenue C.’ ” C-squat is two doors down from Rivera’s campaign office, which is in the storefront formerly occupied by Barnyard sandwich shop.