NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Billionaire businessman Barry Diller has pulled the plug on a bold plan to build an entertainment island on an undulating pier in the Hudson.
Many hoped it would become the city’s newest landmark.
Diller’s sudden decision to throw in the towel caught his opponents by surprise, because it came as settlement talks were winding down, and he was about to get the green light to build the $250-million performance center of his dreams with his own money, for thousands to enjoy.
“I’m shocked,” Richard Emery told CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer.
Emery is the lawyers who represented civic and environmental critics in a toe to toe battle with Barry Diller as the businessman and philanthropist sought to build a unique, futuristic entertainment island that would have been 186 feet off the Hudson shore line.
“We were very close to a settlement that would have left the pier exactly as he wanted it. He would have gotten his whole program, nothing would have changed about the pier,” Emery said.
But Diller, who was footing the bill for the mega project, said the very idea of a settlement stuck in his craw.
“I couldn’t in good faith agree to a settlement agreement,” he told supporters, “As I felt we had done nothing wrong, and that to give victory to these people was in itself wrong.”
Diller’s move left the site — off 14th Street — in limbo. Forty-two piles have already been installed, and although contractors could be seen on a barge there, all work has stopped.
It would have been a lush island on the Hudson with rolling grass walkways, an amphitheater, and places to stage concerts and plays.
Diller’s decision was lamented by many, including the head of the Hudson River Park Trust which would have overseen the venue.
“We are deeply saddened,” said the trust’s president Madellyn Wills. “Because this was a project the community so resoundingly wanted, and that millions would one day enjoy. Instead, it was thwarted by small-minded people who decided they knew better.”
“It’s said that it’s come to this. I think Barry Diller was trying to do something good for New York City,” Mayor de Blasio said, “I think he got to a point where he felt there just wasn’t a path forward.”
Opponents wanted the trust to do more estiuary work for the river, build beaches, and provide waterfront access.
Members of the public were split.
“Barry’s done a lot of innovative things. We’ve got a lot of entertainment, so maybe if we have some balance, some greenery, some oceanry, it might be better for the city, “one person said.
“It’s a shame, I think there’s a negotiation for everything. He’s a bright individual. He probably knows when to fold em,” Steve Goldberg added.
A spokesman for the Hudson River Park Trust told CBS2’s Kramer no decision has been made about what to do with the concrete piles that have already been installed.
Mayor de Blasio said the city will not step in to build the project.
A spokesman for Senator Schumer said the project is dead, but not yet marked ‘do not resuscitate.’