NYC2012 Olympic Stadium Debate
Dan Doctoroff making an Olympic presentation.
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I met Dan Doctoroff four, maybe five years ago. Now Mike Bloomberg’s Deputy Mayor for Development and Rebuilding, Dan came to my office to pitch his dream: NYC2012.
He had made his fortune in investment banking and now was a New York Olympic evangelist. He was on a mission and he hasn’t stopped yet.
It has been his unique drive and energy that has brought the Olympic dream to New York and has placed our City as one of a small fistful of finalists to host the 2012 Summer Games.
I remember that meeting. Dan came – Olympic book in hand – to spread the word and ask for input. In a sincere but casual manner, he turned to me at the end of the session and asked something like, “Mike, do you have advice on how I can make this happen?”
I looked at him and responded, “Put your head down, and run through the line. Don’t let every community crazy or group, or every interfering publisher divert you from your course. In New York, if you want to get anything done Dan, run through the line and don’t look back over the fallen bodies.”
That was maybe five years ago and I couldn’t swear to the wording, but am sure of the sentiment. I told Dan Doctoroff that the best path to winning the 2012 Olympics was a straight line through and/or over the opposition.
Dan listened – perhaps too well. And now, five years later, some may think that Queens and I are victims of a strategy I recommended way back then.
I am not the least bit sorry.
Two weeks ago, I declared on this page, “I intend to keep my eyes on the prize — winning the 2012 Olympics.”
And my friends, that is what matters. As a lover of this Borough, this City and the Olympics, I am part of Dan’s dream. For more than a half a century I have followed the games and now I can hear them knocking at my door.
I am saddened that the dream may be damaged by the very low esteem the world community has for our nation due to a poorly executed Iraq policy. But Doctoroff recently saw a more positive side when interviewed by Marcia Kramer on CBS TV: “We’re the city that really is an Olympic Village everyday . . . Bringing the world together; the spirit of competition; and it is the pursuit of dreams. That’s the Olympics. That’s New York City.”
I’m not sure they’ll buy it in France, but the Deputy Mayor has this Olympic dream, starry-eyed and hopeful.
With that dream alive, we entered the Olympic debate. We met with both sides of the Olympic Stadium controversy in an attempt to determine whether NYC2012’s bullheaded dismissal of Queens as a potential site for the Olympic stadium was truly in the best interest of New York City bringing home the gold in 2012.
In its initial bid, in response to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s inquiry, NYC2012 certified Queens as the back-up stadium site. Today, explains Brian Hatch, former Deputy Mayor of Salt Lake City which hosted the 2002 Winter Games, the same group rejects any idea of a back up. Hatch, a self-appointed spokesperson for the anti-West Side Stadium group, insists Queens sites have not been fairly evaluated.
Queens Olympic Committee President David Oats, former editor of the Queens Tribune, is joined by Hatch and a chorus of West Side business, civic and political leaders, and presents a problem for NYC2012.
When Oats and Hatch reached out to me, I listened. In separate interviews, Hatch as an urban planner and Oats carrying a community activist visionary torch once held by master builder Robert Moses, they challenged the cost estimates NYC2012 was giving for a Queens Stadium. They explained that the Jets had not ruled out Queens. They both asserted their belief that when (and if) the West Side stadium is defeated, the Jets will spend $800 million for the Queens Stadium. Hatch named the soccer MetroStars as an alternative to Jets financing. Oats included the Mets as possible partners in a new Queens Stadium.
While Hatch offers existing Shea and three adjacent sites, Oats prefers the most costly Willets Point development for the stadium which would reclaim as parkland a final piece of the Flushing Meadows corridor to fulfill a dream that would make his late mentor, grand architect Robert Moses, proud of his legacy. It would also provide a connection to downtown Flushing, enhancing a development plan advocated by Doctoroff himself.
“A leaner [Queens] budget would make sense for the City, given our more pressing needs. It would also help the bid,” Hatch explained, “given the cost-conscious IOC.”
While maintaining his independence and refusing direct funding, Oats is relying on support and force from the West Side opposition including Cablevision’s James Dolan who stands to lose his MSG Manhattan arena monopoly. The active group, threatening to short-circuit NYC2012’s plan with public relations and legal battles, has already taken to the airwaves with 30-second TV spots on NY1 and CNN.
Hatch notes, “It appears they [the City] would try to start construction even though the courts would still be working on the issue. Nonetheless, the big issue leading up to the International Olympic Committee vote would be NY’s biggest weakness — controversy over a particular venue, even though no city has tried to start construction just before the IOC. [It’s] too risky, and unnecessary.”
“Makes one think that winning the Olympics isn’t really the objective here,” Hatch concludes.
Doctoroff and Jay Kriegel, Executive Director of NYC2012 remain unmoved by opposition and with the support of the Mayor and Governor, forge ahead assuming all other key decision makers will fall in line. Suggesting that no one wants to be labeled as the person who cost New York the Olympics and waiving the promise of huge development dollars and construction jobs, other opposition has been largely silenced or negated.
While most West Side elected officials oppose the plan, Queens Congressman Anthony Weiner is the only Queens official on record in favor of the Queens alternative.
Oats has written to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) demeaning the site selection process. We wonder if his almost solo obstructionist effort could negatively impact New York’s chances of winning the games. Does the IOC appreciate a good ol’ American inside fight or does controversy diminish our City’s standing as Olympic hosts?
Although, I believe the debate is both healthy and warranted, I would prefer to have it heard, in our City and State. Based on our recent meeting with Kriegel, his plan requires funding approval of both the City Council and NYS legislature. We challenge Oats and the West Side folks to have the debate in those forums. We call upon any elected officials embracing a Queens stadium alternative to step forward because nothing we’ve seen so far has indicated that the opposition has very much in the way of wide spread support.
However, nothing here is to suggest that I believe that the Olympic fathers have given Queens a close or fair look — as a matter of fact, Kriegel admits they haven’t.
So, I thought I’d see if I could make it happen.
I called Council Speaker Giff Miller and suggested that Queens might be a serious alternative to the Deputy Mayor’s site and that it might be both constructive and politically beneficial for him to sit down with James Dolan from Cablevision, Jay Cross of the Jets and Fred Wilpon, owner of the Mets. Creating a Queens alternative might help both the Olympic bid and his standing in the outer-boroughs.
Giff expressed some interest and I received a follow-up call from the Counsel to the Land Use committee. But nothing more so far, as the City Hall whispers indicate the Council will fall in line with NYC2012.
I met with Queens Beep Helen Marshall and suggested to her that she lead the charge for a Queens Stadium. As I reported previously, Helen is on record telling Doctoroff and the Mayor that Queens was prepared to serve as a back-up site. But the Beep is content with the Olympic largess on the drawing board for Queens, and the lack of a real movement for a Queens Stadium causes Helen to remain a supporter of the NYC2012 plan.
I met with NYC2012 Executive Director Jay Kriegel and explored the Queens Stadium from every angle I could.
Kriegel’s analysis was simple: 1) How do you pay for it? 2) Do you have a tenant to pay for and maintain it after the Olympics, and 3) Can you complete it on an acceptable Olympic timetable.
I took the bait and spoke last week with Jets President Jay Cross and previously with his Vice President for Development Matt Higgins. Higgins, a former Trib reporter, got his start in City government by moving over from our offices to the press operation of Mayor Giuliani.
Interesting to note, Higgins’ Tribune editor was Queens Olympic Committee head David Oats.
I asked Cross: “If the West Side Stadium is defeated by the courts, City Council, State legislature, or environmental problems, would the Jets come to Queens?”
“There is no Queens transaction on the table. No borough president, no politician, no mayor, no governor has reached out in terms of Queens, so until that time it is still a hypothetical situation,” Cross explained.
We pushed on.
Cross closed the door further: “I’m not going to say, you know, never, because never is a firm word…but even if the Olympics doesn’t succeed, we still have an interest and the Governor has an interest in making the West Side succeed.
But if it doesn’t, I think our most reasonable option would be to stay in New Jersey.”
Cross explained the decision is one of economics. The sale of luxury suites is what will finance the Jets’ $800 million plus investment in the stadium. Pointing out that the West Side is equidistant from New Jersey and Long Island fans, Cross explained, “When I am in the center of the compass, I think I have the best ability to sell to all points.”
We tried again and Cross concluded: “The cost is the same no matter where you put it, but the revenue is not the same . . . It is not so much that we are saying never, never in Queens, it is just that Queens is really a third or fourth choice, to be honest.”
Although Cross explained that the geometry of a football stadium can lend itself to an Olympic Stadium, and it doesn’t work for baseball, we reached out for Fred Wilpon and the Mets. Knowing full well that there was both desire and a desperate need for a new stadium to house New York’s favorite baseball team, we thought the “Amazins’” might offer a Queens alternative.
The Mets don’t seem willing to play. It is immaterial whether political pressure or the baseball trend towards smaller, more comfy stadiums has convinced Wilpon to stay out of this one. But the Mets were not biting.
And although I’m a dreamer, I’m an Olympic dreamer. And winning the games for my City is more important than trying to bring down the movement for my borough — which also benefits greatly from the Olympics.
And so, unless someone with about three quarters of a billion dollars comes along real soon, offering to build the Olympic Stadium in Queens and operate it after the Olympics, I’ll go with the vision that has gotten us into the Olympic finals. The naysayers belong with the 15 percent of New Yorkers who don’t want an Olympics in our City.
Me, I’ll go to Manhattan to watch the track and field events.
But wait a second. There is just one more really important, overriding point to this issue and no space to share it.
Please come back here next week and read our conclusion on the NYC2012 Olympic vision.