A Debate Of Olympic Proportions
Artist’s rendering of a Jets/Olympic stadium next to Shea Stadium in Queens.
By By Aaron Rutkoff and Angela Montefinise
The 2012 summer Olympics may be more than eight years away, but the games to lure the Games to the Big Apple have been up and running for over a year – and Queens is right in the middle.
In the contact sport that is big-budget development planning for the city’s Olympic bid, where the winners take home millions of dollars in public funding instead of gold medals, an assortment of critics increasingly complain that Queens has been left on the sidelines.
The most obvious example is the city’s plan for the centerpiece of the Games – the Olympic stadium. On one side is Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and his plan to build the $1.4 billion stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, and have the New York Jets pick up $800 million of the tab.
On the other side are former Deputy Mayor of Salt Lake City Brian Hatch and former Trib editor David Oats, who believe the stadium should be in Queens to cut costs and use existing facilities – two features that are attractive to the International Olympic Committee.
To listen to the steady stream of officious announcements and determined assurances gushing forth from the Mayor’s Office over the past several months, it seems that the Manhattan location for a new state-of-the-art stadium complex is all but set in stone.
But a closer look reveals that the Olympics in Queens may not be so far-fetched.
The West Side Stadium
NYC2012, the entity in charge of New York City’s bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics which is headed by Doctoroff, is pushing a plan to build a 75,000-seat stadium on the West Side of Manhattan over the Hudson Railyards.
The stadium is estimated to cost $1.4 billion – $800 for the stadium to be paid for by the Jets, and $600 million for a platform over the yards that will be paid for by the State and City.
In addition, there are costs to expand the 7 line to create access to the site.
Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who spoke to the Tribune via email, explained there is no alternative location for the new stadium.
“Simply put, the Jets are not interested in making an $800 million investment anywhere other than the Far West Side, and the city cannot afford to build the facility without the support of the private sector,” Doctoroff told the Tribune.
Although Jets officials told the Tribune that the team wants to move to Manhattan, but statements by Jets President Jay Cross on the Mike and The Mad Dog radio show on WFAN 660 suggested that Doctoroff, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki are actually leading the charge for the West Side.
On the show, which aired on March 30, Cross said, “The mayor of the city of New York and the governor of the state of New York think the West Side is the place to build a new stadium for the Jets. I’m not about to pick a fight with them.”
He also said of a stadium, “Perhaps it could in Queens, but I’m not aware that we’ve got an official offer to build one in Queens.”
Brian Hatch, the former Deputy Mayor of Salt Lake City during the 2002 winter Olympics, is the man behind www.newyorkgames.org, and said during an interview this week with the Tribune, “When the city approached the Jets in 1999 about building a stadium on the West Side, they declined. They had to be convinced. They could be convinced to move to Queens.
Even if the Jets won’t move to Queens, Hatch said New York should incorporate another Queens facility into the mix – a revamped Shea Stadium.
Plans to retrofit Shea as an Olympic centerpiece already exists, Hatch said, and were once at the heart of city’s 1984 bid for the summer games. The upgrade and expansion to the existing facility, home field of the Mets baseball team, would need to add at least 24,000 seats to qualify as an Olympic centerpiece, but the cost would remain far below that of the West Side plan.
He said, “The winning bid will incorporate existing facilities. Queens has them. The West Side doesn’t.”
Hatch and former Trib editor David Oats – leaders in the fight to bring the Olympic stadium to Queens – point to the money saved by bringing the stadium to Queens.
Hatch said, “Right now, the city’s bid is at $12 billion if you take into account all of the infrastructure needed. That’s astronomically higher than the other bids . . .
Right now the International Olympic Committee is looking to keep costs lower. The stadium on the West Side, with the extension of the 7 which will be closed during the Olympics, will cost much more than in Queens, where the infrastructure is already there.”
He added, “The IOC wants to see efficient bids that use existing structures. Under the West Side plan, we’re creating new infrastructure unnecessarily.”
Doctoroff disagreed, and argued that the likely location for a new football stadium in Queens, near Shea Stadium in the junkyard of Willets Point, would present little in the way of financial savings over the West Side plan.
“There is absolutely no evidence that building the facility would be cheaper in Queens than Manhattan,” Doctoroff wrote, citing estimates by the Economic Development Corporation and the City Planning officials that placed a $230 million price tag on the purchase and development of Willets Point, which lacks even basic road and sewer systems.
Hatch countered, however, that currently the MTA owns the Hudson Railyards, and he said, “Those could be sold and developed for millions of dollars.”
David Oats and his group the Queens Olympic Committee are taking the borough’s fight overseas, sending a letter to the International Olympic Committee and sending a member of the committee to Switzerland to present the Queens case in person.
He said, “The IOC has made very strong ground rules on cutting down costs and complexity of Olympic bids... The West Side Stadium is just a boondoggle of a scale that is almost of unimaginable. Billions of billions of dollars. The West Side does not want it. They have made that very clear. Every single elected official of that area has come out against it.”
He added, “We don’t want to hurt the New York bid. But they’re killing their own dream. This plan will die in the end because they have made it too big, too expensive, too complex.”
He said, “I didn’t want to have to bring our argument overseas. I don’t want to do anything that will hurt the bid. But Doctoroff has been dismissive with me and arrogant with me. We have to have our point heard and this is how we’re doing it.”
As for what the Olympics will bring to Queens, Oats said it will bring prestige and the same excitement that surrounded the borough for the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs.
In terms of economic development, Oats, said, “I’m not saying it’s going to bring nirvana to Queens, but it will bring economic benefit to the city as a whole. First of all, you get rid of the eyesore at Willets Point. That connects downtown Flushing and you can develop all the way down to the Flushing river.”
Bringing The Olympics To New York City
Hatch said the trend in choosing cities to host the Olympics has been towards low-cost cities. He said, “The International Olympic Committee wants to bring the Olympics to developing nations, and to do so, the pricetags cannot be too high.”
Currently, New York City is poised to make the final cut for cities bidding for the Olympics, set to take place on May 18. That cut only looks at the cities themselves, and narrows down the field to cities that actually have the ability to host a world-class event.
That will leave New York in competition with either five or six cities – Paris, Madrid, Moscow, London and possibly Rio de Janeiro.
In his responses to the Tribune, Doctoroff described the $1.4 billion stadium as a “spectacular venue for the opening and closing ceremonies.” This vision of the Olympic flame sharing the skyline with the Empire State Building has motivated Doctoroff for years, even before he joined the Bloomberg administration.
‘The Best Alternative’
A memo written last October by NYC2012 official Christopher Glaisek and circulated to Doctoroff found that “[t]he best alternative to the Hudson Yards Olympic stadium is the Shea Stadium/Willets Point vicinity.”
The memo, which became public last year, is proof, according to Hatch, that proposals for the Olympics are still open, and that Queens could still be considered.
Hatch remains optimistic that opposition to the West Side stadium will eventually defeat the movement, especially when alternative locations in Queens are introduced to the public.
The IOC will choose its city in June of 2005, and when it does, Hatch said the city will still have seven years to change its plans to Queens.
In the aftermath, when the Jets are able to choose between building a new stadium in either the New Jersey Meadowlands or Queens, “I think they’ll make the obvious choice.”