Update 7/21/17: This story has been updated with additional information on the City Club’s recent activity, and the Army Corps of Engineering permitting process has been clarified.
Just when waters seemed calm, a new player has waded into the public spectacle that is the fight over Pier 55. To move the pricey project forward, Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked developer Douglas Durst to stop funding lawsuits against it.
The $250 million project is spearheaded by the Hudson River Park Trust, the public benefit corporation that manages Hudson River Park. The group, backed by substantial contributions from financier Barry Diller, asked London’s Thomas Heatherwick to design a whimsical public space programmed for entertainment back in 2014. But almost since its inception, Pier 55, which is sited near Manhattan’s West 13th Street, has been dogged by lawsuits from the City Club of New York, a once-dead civic organization that resurfaced in 2013 to challenge initiatives like the Midtown East rezoning.
But the Mayor’s call to Durst last week may be paving the way for talks between the City Club and the Trust.
Through its lawyer, the City Club said it’s open to negotiation but it’s not backing off the courts. “In all likelihood,” Richard D. Emery told The New York Times, “we’re going to file a new challenge and then sit down and negotiate with them.”
Emery told the Times his client won’t go to the table unless the park agrees to greater transparency in the future, giving stakeholders with divergent viewpoints space to discuss projects like Pier 55. (The Trust maintains its public review process for the project was above-board.) Right now, it’s not clear what a settlement would include.
Durst wasn’t always a foe of the group: He served on the board of Friends of Hudson River Park, a fundraising team that supports the Trust, but quit in December 2012. This May he confirmed rumors that he has been funding the City Club’s lawsuits all along.
None of those cases were successful until March of this year, when U.S. District Court Judge Lorna G. Schofield ruled that the pier would negatively impact the rivers estuarine sanctuary, and thus countered the Trust’s mission protecting the Hudson. After the Trust addressed the issues Judge Schofield cited in her decision, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a new pier permit in May.