Queens And The NYC2012 Olympics
NYC2012 Exec. Dir. Jay Kreigel
and Trib Publisher Michael Schenkler.
Photo: Aaron Rutkoff
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I love sports!
I love New York!
I love Queens!
And I love the Olympics . . .
I started watching them with my dad — he loved all of those things, too — way back in the fifties and haven’t missed one since: Helsinki, 1952; Melbourne, 1956; Rome, 1960; Tokyo, 1964; Mexico City, 1968; Munich. 1972; Montreal, 1976; Moscow, 1980; Los Angeles, 1984; Seoul, 1988; Barcelona, 1992; Atlanta, 1996; Sydney, 2000.
And I’ll be watching Athens this summer.
For some, it’s the pomp and ceremony; for others it’s the global camaraderie; and for others, it’s a particular sport. I like it all. But like dad, track and field really does it for me.
And now, more than half a century after my father turned me on to the greatest sporting event on earth, there is a chance that I can have it all, in person, at home, in 2012.
It’s better than a Super Bowl or World Series. It is the ultimate lifetime experience — I’m taking the two weeks off. Hey Jay, save me some good seats.
That is, if New York City gets the games.
Although I have mixed feelings about a number of the controversies that have been part of the NYC2012 Olympic bid process, I intend to keep my eyes on the prize: winning the 2012 Olympics.
Over the past several weeks, I have been involved in perhaps the most contentious of all the issues surrounding the Olympic bid: the site of the main stadium which will house the opening and closing ceremonies and host my precious track and field events.
Allow me briefly to summarize the basic issue: NYC2012 has selected the Manhattan West Side Hudson Rail Yards as the site of the new, soon-to-be built Olympic Stadium. A platform costing roughly $600 million funded half by NYC and half by NYS will be built over the yards. The stadium, which before and after the Olympics will serve as the home of the New York Jets — remember the team that left Shea and Queens for Jersey — will be built by them on top of the platform at a cost of roughly $800 million. NYC2012 plans to compensate the MTA – the owner of the rail yards – for the air rights by extending the #7 line — which starts in Flushing — from Times Square to a new stop on the West Side serving the new stadium and an expanded Javitz Convention Center at a cost of between $1.2 and $1.5 billion.
I admit it, as I sat and talked about these numbers over the last several weeks, I had to use my fingers to count zeroes. It will be the most expensive stadium ever built.
But then again, it is being built in the greatest City in the world. And after it’s all over, along with Javits, it is supposed to be the centerpiece that will allow the New York City tourism industry to continue to drive the City’s economy.
There are West Side civics, businesses and elected officials shouting “not in my backyard.“
There are even the 10 percenters who don’t want the Olympics in our City.
And there is a small, but rather loud voice shouting that Queens — Flushing Meadows-Corona Park expanded into Willets Point — is the cheaper and better site for the Olympic Stadium. Citing the areas of transportation infrastructure, which has served as host to two World’s Fairs, the U.S. Open — the nation’s premier Tennis event — and the Mets at Shea, and insisting that the total cost will be significantly less, the Queens group has sought and found support from the West Side naysayers.
Both sides have also sought support from the Trib and me. My reputation as a crusading journalist, the widespread impact of the paper and our network of politicians and power players has placed us, at the moment, in the middle of the stadium debate. And we take the role seriously.
Advocating for our borough and for our City are responsibilities that come with guiding the Trib.
Publishers should be more than journalists, more than businessmen, they should be advocates for the people they serve. Yes, the pen is mighty and the printing press magnifies it by a quarter of a million plus readers.
So when we engage in a crusade, we do so only after careful consideration. We are cautious, measured and even-handed.
However, when it is clear to us that the good of the people of Queens and/or the City must be represented, we can put on the gloves. We distinguish our weekly editorial page statement from true advocacy journalism by time and space invested. If the cause is important to our borough and we have even a small chance of making a difference, we have been known to hammer away week after week, column after column, edit after edit.
I don’t know how much space this issue will consume. This is clearly not the last of the columns we’re going to write on the topic — we still have some work to do before we have completely resolved the issue in our own minds. But yet, the past month has made it clear to us that it is important for us to be invested in this stadium issue and resolute in our position. We know that the clock is ticking and we can’t and won’t wait much longer until we complete our research and commit ourselves to helping New York win the Olympics and Queens reap the benefits that come with the Olympic victory.
The NYC2012 Olympic bid’s plans generously endow the future of Queens. The $1.5 billion Olympic Village will be our centerpiece. Built by private developers on the Queens West site adjacent to the East River, after housing 16,000 athletes and coaches, it will provide our borough and city much needed middle income housing for 18,000 people. It will add retail space, recreational opportunities, and enhanced ferry and rail service to Queens’ newest developing neighborhood.
A new $66.5 million Queensbridge Athletic Center will be built near the Village to host badminton and cycling. It will become a recreation and event center for high schools, colleges, sports organizations, and local groups.
The swimming and diving will be held at the Astoria Pool after a $22.5 million modernization. After the games, an expanded park will attract thousands, with the public Astoria Pool serving as a premier aquatics center for New York City.
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and its lakes will receive a $117.5 million upgrade to host rowing, canoeing and kayaking events. Creating a permanent world-class facility in the park will establish Queens as a national center for rowing and whitewater canoeing. It will serve as a recreational and educational center for the area.
Park renovations will also provide 10 new soccer fields, three new baseball diamonds, two new softball fields plus the park’s southern section will be upgraded with a raised boardwalk and a comprehensive plan for protecting habitats for birds, fish, and other wildlife, and will be opened to joggers and picnickers. All in all, public recreation will be carefully balanced with the needs of the environment.
Sure sounds pretty good for Queens.
But the Queens proponents believe it could be better.
They are led by former Queens Tribune editor David Oats and urban planner Brian Hatch, who served as Deputy Mayor of Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Oats has pitched us and used his press skills to get exposure for his cause everywhere from this page to the NY Times Metro Section. During a visit to our office, Hatch provided us with a detailed view of Olympic and City alternatives from the vantage point of a City Planner.
He continues to serve as an online resource challenging a number of the premises of NYC2012.
However, we’ve also met with the other side. Last week Jay Kriegel, Executive Director of NYC2012, paid us a visit.
Kriegel, a veteran of City government provided us with a passionate and logical presentation of the Olympic bid and choice of the West Side for the Stadium.
He possesses as much hair as I have, though his is much grayer. Nevertheless, his mind is sharp and he was on a mission. Jay had come to Queens to convince the Trib that Queens does phenomenally well in the Olympic plan and the West Side Stadium was the only option.
Jay, we’re convinced — at least partly — yes, Queens does extremely well in the Olympic plan and more importantly rather than getting bogged down with the silly protests or power politics that are taking place, I will thoroughly look at the issues, present them to my readers, and as I said at the beginning of this column, “I intend to keep my eyes on the prize: winning the 2012 Olympics.”
(Next week we shall try to bring some closure to the Stadium debate and evaluate the results of our sit-downs with Queens Olympic Committee spokesperson Brian Hatch, NYC2012 President Jay Kriegel and relate the outcome of our scheduled meeting next week with Jay Cross, President of the New York Jets, the team that is paying for the Stadium at the center of the controversy.)