Little Island, developed by Barry Diller, with an amphitheater and dramatic views, opens on Hudson River Park. Opponents battled it for years.
I won’t dawdle over the mess that followed the island’s announcement. A real estate titan who had bones to pick with the Hudson River Park Trust supported a series of legal challenges. At one point, seeing no end in sight to the court fights, Diller backed out. A deal brokered by New York’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, ultimately rescued the project and also delivered public commitments to enhance protections for wildlife habitats and improve other parts of the four-mile-long, 550-acre Hudson River Park.
English garden follies — not least because Little Island can remind you more of a private estate than a city park. It’s clearly going to cost a king’s ransom to maintain, a burden the Hudson River Park Trust (which is to say the public) would have to bear absent other arrangements.
Fortunately, Diller has promised that his family foundation will pick up the tab for the next 20 years. That’s not forever, but it includes programming costs, Diller told me — until the programming (mostly free, not a moneymaker) can find nonprofit funding to “stand on its own.” He estimates he may end up spending $380 million all in — no doubt the largest private gift to a public park in the city’s history, maybe in the planet’s.
The other day I climbed to the topmost point on the island, a grassy crow’s nest with a 360 panorama. A lovely path shaded by dogwoods and redbuds, perfumed by woodland azaleas, snaked up the hillside. The views shifted from city to river, garden to grassland.
Heatherwick’s columns peek through a hill here or there, but you don’t really focus on them once you’re on the island, save for the great arch of giant tulip bulbs at the entrance, which required a year of tweaking to get the curves just right and to accommodate soil for Nielsen’s trees on top.