Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Park on the Water

It is amazing how a project can allude you until it is actually realized. In this case it is in my hometown, New York ... a park has been built in the Hudson River ... yes, actually in the river!

When I was young in the 50’s I went to Europe by ship and we left and docked at the West Side Piers on the Hudson River. There were always people on the dock waiving with handkerchiefs either good-byes or welcoming friends and family. Of course, from the 60’s on I flew and never thought about what happened to those unused piers.

For the past two decades there have been various projects to revitalize this neglected part of Manhattan Island with recreational sites under the auspices of the Hudson River Park Trust.

Little Island, however, is different. It was conceived in 2014 to replace Pier 54 on Manhattans’ West Side near 13th Street. Typical of such a venture the estimated cost of $35 million skyrocketed to $260 million. The project was funded by Barry Diller former CEO of 20th Century Fox and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, two marquee names. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and as so often happens a mega real estate individual threw several legal challenges in its path. Diller, disgusted with the delay, and probably the lack of appreciation for his efforts, bowed out. Enter the Governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, who brokered a deal between the billionaires so the project could move forward.

The island was designed by Thomas Heatherwick who has done another project on the Hudson. Let him spend 2 minutes telling you about the Little Island project.

The approximately two-and-a-half-acre plot stands out among all the rest because it has been built on what are known as “tulip pots”, pilings of different heights so the paths of the park can wind around hills. Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times, it is, “in the theatrical vein of 18th century English garden follies – not least because Little Island can remind you more of a private estate than a city park.”

To reach most islands you need a floating craft of some sort but to reach Little Island you can take one of two footbridges.

The plantings trees, flowers and grass are clearly outstanding and there is an outdoor amphitheater that seats 687 with sunset views as well as a smaller space for more intimate performances. There is also plenty to entertain the kids. Considering what a draw this new space will be there will be timed reservations required from ages 3 and up, which can be made 4 weeks in advance. If you booked tickets for a performance, you can spend the day at the park. The park will only be closed for 5 hours a day 
meaning that it is open from 6am to 1am!

For the next twenty years Diller has committed his family foundation to paying to keep Little Island in the same shape as it is in its opening this month. Hopefully, the city will find the funding to maintain it long after that. It is certainly a destination I look forward to visiting.

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