Billionaires Draw Swords In “Hollywood On The Hudson” Drama

Rich Guy Fight Club

By Jeff Vasishta September 24, 2016
Photo courtesy of Heatherwick Studio

[otw_shortcode_dropcap label=”M” font=”Bowlby One SC” color_class=”otw-black-text” background_color_class=”otw-no-background” size=”large” border_color_class=”otw-no-border-color”][/otw_shortcode_dropcap]edia mogul Barry Diller couldn’t have found a better screenplay, even if he’d recruited his top writers for the task. When Diller teamed up with fashion designer Diane Von Furstenburg to propose a $130 million, 2.7 acre village green off the Hudson at 13th street, little did he know that he would ignite a courtroom drama straight from a John Grisham novel.

Related: Worth The Wait: The World Trade Center Performing Arts Center Has Finally Been Unveiled

The project is known as “Hollywood on the Hudson” because of Diller, along with movie producer Scott Rudin, having been tasked with curating events in the three performance of the new construction. When it was first proposed last year, a Manhattan appeals court tossed out a challenge by a group of activists from the City Club of New York. Their suit claimed that the construction, in the water off 13th Street, would have a negative impact on the local marine ecosystem. Despite their complaints, construction was granted in April. Round One to Diller.

Not so fast, though. Those pesky activists won an appeal from a state court in June forcing workers to stop installing pilings. Round Two to the City Club of New York. Diller’s team shot back and finally got the project green lit. But, in a plot twist befitting any legal blockbuster, when the mask was pulled off the City Club, things were not nearly as they appeared to be.  These “marine eco warriors” were, in fact, funded by real estate tycoon Douglas Durst, notoriously not into the environment. Hmm, that fishy smell may not be coming from the river. In a battle of the billionaires for New York Real Estate, could there be a Round 4?

Photo courtesy of Heatherwick Studio
Photo courtesy of Heatherwick Studio

It turns out that Durst may have been happy to shelve out millions in legal fees against the park for less than environmentally altruistic reasons. As a donor and former chairman of the Friends of Hudson River Park (which overseas fundraising for the four-mile stretch that Pier 55 would become a part of) he was unceremoniously ousted from his position on the board. His ouster coincided with former NYCEDC (New York City Economic Development Corp.) exec Madelyn Wils’ appointment as chief exec of the trust in 2011. Turns out, two words that should never appear in the same sentence as the name Douglas Durst are “unceremoniously” and “ousted”. This guy does not let go easily.

The NY Times noted: “Though Mr. Durst publicly said then that he had agreed ‘to step down for the benefit of the park,’ making way for others who could donate or solicit more money, he seethed in an unpublished interview at what he saw as the “highhandedness of the trust’s leadership.” Oh, boy.

“This was a ridiculous lawsuit from the start, so we’re pleased by today’s swift and sweeping decision,” Madelyn Wils, the president and CEO of Hudson River Park Trust, said in a statement after the final hearing. “Today’s ruling marks a victory for the millions who love Hudson River Park, and we look forward to welcoming visitors to what will be one of New York’s greatest public spaces.”

Once the a more complete view of the details became evident, it just got harder to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. But, somewhere in a Manhattan penthouse Douglas Durst is zealously crushing a cigar into an ashtray and plotting his revenge.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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