Tate Williams

In Diller Island’s Demise, a Cautionary Tale of Donor Influence

Tate Williams September 22, 2017
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Just like that, Pier 55, a $250 million floating park (cultural island? entertainment center? performing arts pier?) to be built over a dilapidated pier on the Hudson River, is no more.

A lot of people are very upset about its demise, angry at an opposition group that hit the project with costly litigation. But ultimately, it was main backer Barry Diller who pulled the plug, withdrawing his and Diane von Furstenberg’s funding for the project. The costs and controversy had become too much, he said.

To be fair, it had become a messy process with many layers, including multiple lawsuits, dueling billionaires and old grudges that all hamstrung its development. But I would argue that the fundamental failing of what became known as Diller Island was that, as a plan for a public space, it was just far too reliant on and driven by one man’s vision and wealth.

Especially at a time when it seems the city-dwelling public has become more skeptical of deluxe donor-driven projects, both philanthropists and cities can take away some lessons from Diller Island’s collapse about navigating public-private partnerships for public spaces. Namely, a billionaire donor with such control over a high-profile parks project, without a great enough level of public participation, is a recipe for trouble. And when trouble comes, that donor can walk away.

Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.

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