Barry Diller's Pier 55 Park: How Money Is Changing City Parks

Its no picnic to run a public park these days. Look at Manhattans Pier 54. Once the launching point for ocean liners, the pier was incorporated into Hudson River Park in the late 80s and turned into an event space. But its underwater pilings were rotting, and four years ago it had to be shut down. The Hudson River Park Trust, the public agency that oversees a four-mile stretch of waterfront, had no money for repairs; it receives no public funding for its operations, even though its collection of ballfields, athletic facilities, and footpaths are the go-to recreation space for residents of Manhattans West Side. Madelyn Wils, the Trusts president and CEO, had kept the parks assortment of piers open largely with private contributions, but she knew Pier 54s pilings would require a big donation. I couldnt get any interest from the state or city, she lamented. And there are not a lot of philanthropists out there willing to repair the pilings.

Wils approached the billionaire Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC. He was an obvious choice: His companys Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Chelsea overlooked Hudson River Park, and he and his wife, the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, were the largest private benefactors of New Yorks much-celebrated High Line, just a couple blocks away. But instead of handing Wils a check, Diller counteroffered: Let him build a completely new park. What was initially a plan for a modest events space ballooned, and pretty soon Diller was offering to b....

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