Today we were all hit with the surprise news that a $130 million contribution from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, combined with $40 million in infrastructure funding from the City, State, and Hudson River Park Trust, will result in a huge new landscaped pier and performance center in the Hudson River Park off 14th Street, to be called Pier 55.
Apparently the Hudson River Park Trust has been negotiating this deal in secret for about two and a half years, and both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio seem fully on board. Press reports say the island/performance art center will require no public hearings or approvals other than a vote of the Hudson River Park Trust and Army Corps of Engineers and NY State Department of Environmental Conservation permits.
GVSHP typically does not comment upon or get involved with internal planning for and development of the Hudson River Park, unless it would have a clear and direct impact upon inland areas, which we do consider within our bailiwick. Exceptions have been the massive planned “Vegas-on-the-Hudson” development for Pier 40, which would have generated enormous traffic and development pressure inland, and which GVSHP strongly opposed, and the plan to sell air rights from the park to increase the allowable size of development inland, about which we have raised very strong concerns.
At this time I will continue that tradition of not commenting upon the particulars of the planned Pier 55. But this announcement raises some very serious questions about the premise upon which the troubling plan for the sale of air rights from the park has been based.
No sale of air rights from the park was ever allowed in the original enabling legislation for the park, nor was it ever seriously discussed or contemplated when the park was planned or approved. In fact, the State legislation allowing its use came into being quite quickly at the very end of the legislative session in June of 2013, and most community observers felt completely blindsided by the approval of the authorizing legislation.
But the rationale given for it was that there was simply no other way left to fund the completion and maintenance of the park — that city and state government were not willing to provide the funding to meet those needs, that the Trust simply did not have the money, and that private money could not be raised to cover the costs either.
Today’s announcement seems to call into question these very premises. The Trust has just leveraged a $130 million contribution from a private developer, and the Trust, City and State have agreed to pony up $40 million to help make this dream of a floating recreational island/performing arts space in the Hudson River Park a reality. The combined $170 million would go a long way towards funding the construction of the rest of the park, for which there is, supposedly, no money.
Now to be clear, the Diller-von Furstenberg Foundation money is no doubt not fungible, and could not necessarily have simply been leveraged for construction of the remainder of the Park.
But it’s a little hard to believe that the Trust could work out a deal for this extraordinary level of private funding for an unanticipated fantasy project of a new island to be added to the park, but has been so extraordinarily unsuccessful at leveraging funding for the construction of the park itself. Unless of course they haven’t really been trying, and their only interest in securing private funding for the park has been for vanity projects such as these.
And it’s certainly surprising to hear that the same Trust, City, and State that have said there are no funds available to complete the park now have $40 million on hand to fund the infrastructure for this giant island that was never planned as a part of the park.