Some liken the plans for Pier 55 to the lush, ethereal landscape of Avatar. Others call it a potential environmental hazard whose progression has too often taken place behind closed doors. Pier 55 would be built about a mile south of Hudson Yards, on a pier off of West 13th Street.
In June, the City Club of New York, a civic organization, asked a court to halt construction of the $130 million project until it underwent another environmental review and received approval from the State Legislature. In its lawsuit filing, covered by the New York Times, the group said the project was the result of a “secretive process…that lacked the transparency required by state law and was not designed to elicit meaningful public scrutiny.”
The project in question is an ambitious plan to replace the current, dilapidated Pier 54 with a brand-new public park. Internationally-acclaimed designer Thomas Heatherwick created the design. Renderings of the completed space envision the park as an undulating pier lifted high above the river’s waters. Hundreds of mushroom-shaped planters bear aloft an intricately-crafted landscape of shrubs, trees, open space and flowers as well as a small amphitheater for local performances.
The city committed $17 million to the project, and media mogul Barry Diller and his wife Diane von Furstenberg will fund the rest—“whatever it costs,” Diller told the New York Times. Diller has also committed to maintain Pier 55 and run the amphitheater for 20 years.
Diller is a firm believer in Heatherwick’s soaring imagination and design prowess. “I think he is the most creative, interesting architect—other than Frank Gehry, whom I adore—alive. They share a kind of genius for imagination in its purest form,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
Others have reservations about the plan. The project eventually received the support of Community Board 2, which encompasses that neighborhood, but not before a number of doubts were raised. Local residents expressed concern over sound pollution and the lack of transparency surrounding the project’s creation.
It is this last point that made it into the City Club’s challenge of the park, as well as the potential for environmental damage. The lawsuit, which was filed against the Hudson River Trust and a Diller entity, argues that the trust did not conduct an environmental review, but instead relied upon an older analysis that did not take current conditions into account, said the New York Times. Thus the trust’s conclusion that driving 547 pilings through the river bottom was “free of any environmental impacts” was based on insufficient information.
For now, the Avatar-esque dreamscape has been halted. Stay tuned for updates on Pier 55’s fate.