Little Island in NYC ‘turned out far better than I had hoped,’ Barry Diller says
It took over six years and a personal donation of $ 260 million to bring a billionaire's vision for a fairy tale park to life.
Little Island Park in New York City finally opened to the public on May 21, 2021.
"With this Little Island project, I had hoped from the start that we could build something that would be visually iconic on the waterfront in New York," said Barry Diller, chairman of IAC and Expedia and former CEO of Fox and Paramount Yahoo Finance in a recent interview (video above). "It's gotten a lot better than I hoped."
Diller's gift to the city is a five-acre man-made island and public green space built over the remains of Pier 54, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. With a 687-seat amphitheater and a second stage area called 'The Glade', the park plans to "kick up" when it comes to live performances and events.
Little Island opens to the public in New York City. (Photo by STRF / STAR MAX / IPx, AP)
The park's debut also coincided with the reopening of New York City. In the first six and a half weeks, the park welcomed 500,000 visitors, according to Diller.
"All I can tell you, since I've been there endlessly since we opened, it's just the look on people's faces when they cross the bridge ... and they go to our little Oz, their faces just light up." said Diller. “It seems to me that this… exuberance emanates from the people. It's euphoric to just be able to go to a public place without masks and without social distancing.
Little Island's shaky start
After the designs for the park were revealed in 2014, the project got caught up in legal disputes that almost completely derailed it.
"There was a time when, due to litigation by these dissidents who mainly said ... the reason we shouldn't build this island is because the American eel needs sunlight," Diller said. "To that I replied, 'Well, tell the eel to go one block north or south or east or west because there are a lot of places, whatever.'"
He added that the situation became so controversial that we actually gave up on the project for about two months. And I thought it was all over. "
People visit Little Island Park in New York City on June 14, 2021. (Photo by Noam Galai / Getty Images)
In 2017, New York Governor Cuomo stepped in to broker a deal between various groups that included a commitment to protect wildlife in Hudson River Park. Construction of the park began a year later.
But has this initial resistance carried over to the present?
"I mean, there are certainly people - very few, fortunately - who see it negatively," said Diller. "And they are also negative about it because they think why should a benefactor be able to build something like this in public space, and so on?"
A man watches on Pier 55 with Little Island in the background as summer entertainment returns in New York City on July 25, 2021. (Photo by John Lamparski / Getty Images)
One reason the park encountered resistance was the cost of long-term maintenance of the park. The Diller von Fürstenberg Family Foundation has agreed to finance the park for 20 years until it finds alternative donors.
"It was overwhelmingly positive," said Diller. “We're doing 500 shows between June 10th and September. All of these performances so far - and we're just getting started - have been incredibly well received. "
"You know, I'm just lucky," he added.
Diller "still discovers" the bizarre park
Little Island was built to stand out from other green spaces.
Although the park rests on 132 massive concrete tulips, it appears to float over the Hudson River. The different heights of the tulips also give the park a sloping topography with trees, shrubs, lawns and flowers - a product of Signe Nielsen's careful landscaping.
View of Little Island, a new free public park in Hudson River Park on May 21, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images)
"I wanted something that wasn't a cookie jetty or a park," said Diller. “We wanted something surprising. We wanted something that was bizarre. We wanted it to be friendly. We didn't want it to be presumptuous. "
He said that his main architect, Thomas Heatherwick, designed the park “out of this cauldron”.
The park is 2.7 acres in total and also has a 687-seat amphitheater for live performing arts events.
The number of people in the park at the same time is regulated to avoid overcrowding (reservations can be made online).
"It may not be to everyone's taste," said Diller. "But of course it's not easy for you to say, 'Oh, that's just the way it is." "
People enjoy Little Island Public Park in Manhattan on May 21, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)
And because the island is on the west side of Manhattan, it offers visitors panoramic views of the sunset every night.
For Diller, he said he was "constantly discovering new little nooks and crannies" in places in the island park that he had never seen before, which was one of his goals when the place was still being built.
“We designed it so that there would always be a surprise or something other than turning the other way,” he said. "And so I still discover."
Grace is Assistant Editor for Yahoo Finance and UX Writer for Yahoo Products.
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