How New York City Won The Olympics Part 4: No Olympics But a Lasting Olympic Legacy

NYC2012 venue map

It was the late 1970s and NYC was in the economic dumps. I used to take the train to a station called 23rd and Ely when there was a guy who used to jump in and out of the subway cars with an axe, taking swings at unsuspecting passengers.

I spent my high school summers with a friend in a magazine delivery sorting warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, unloading heavy canvas bags filled with magazines from all over the world, sorting them by postal code into boxes, and repacking them into the bags by area. We worked hard for our minimum wage.

Long Island City was typical of the neighborhoods along the western waterfront part of Queens facing Manhattan – warehouses, factories, chop shops and vacant lots. For decades, various administrations had tried to transform this prime waterfront property, but to little avail.

Like many other places in the five boroughs, it needed an Olympian shove. When Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his deputy, Daniel Doctoroff, kicked off in 2002 a campaign to bid for New York City to be host to the 2012 Summer Olympics, it triggered a comprehensive planning process that has altered the look of the city, and continues to do so.

Hunters Point South is several miles south of Long Island City where I sweated my high school summers away. Hunters Point was to be the site of the Olympic Village, a peaceful oasis surrounded by water on three sides, and yet within 10 kilometers of almost all major sporting venues. Hunters Point was to become the home for some 4,400 units in mid-rise buildings, and after the Olympians went home, would be converted into affordable housing – with a spectacular view of the East River and the Manhattan skyline.

Olympic Village envisioned in Hunter's Point Queens
Olympic Village envisioned in Hunter’s Point Queens

The Olympic Village was no longer necessary after NYC came in fourth in the 2012 bidding process. But the development plans in Hunters Point continued. According to Wikipedia, “As of Spring 2017, the project had attracted $2 billion from private investors. The plan calls for a 10-year build-out of 5,000 dwelling middle-income units, 1,100-seat intermediate/high school, waterfront park of 11 acres (45,000 m2), 96,500 sq ft (8,970 m2) for commercial development, 4,600 sq ft (430 m2) of community space.”

And that’s just Queens.

Manhattan: Although a new stadium for the New York Jets was not built over the Hudson Yards, the bidding process resulted in the rezoning of the area, paving the way for commercial and residential development.

While the LIRR trains at the Hudson Yards are still not covered, development plans for new residential and commercial buildings continue. Part of the Olympic development plan was to convert an old eyesore, an elevated train line, called the High Line, into a walkway from 34th street to the Village downtown. This plan has gone ahead, and a recent visit speaks to its vast popularity. This area was never really accessible to public transportation, so the Olympic bid accelerated the push to extend the #7 subway line to Hudson Yards. You can now get to the waterfront and the starting point for the High Line by taking the 7 train to 34th Street–Hudson Yards train station, which opened in September 2015.

High Line 3
Walking along the High Line

Brooklyn: Thanks to the Olympic bid and planning process, parts of the Brooklyn waterfront were re-zoned to create parks and develop residential and retail space, transforming the Greenpoint and Williamsburg parts of Brooklyn.

Bronx: Although the Olympics did not come to New York, and thus the facilities for track cycling and badminton did not come to the Bronx as a result, the bid process helped spur the redevelopment of what has been described as the dilapidated (and mostly unused) Bronx Terminal Market, which is now the home to a $500 million mall.

Ferry Service: Apparently, there were plans for Olympic athletes to get to certain venues by boat. While the IOC did not approve of that form of transportation, the idea for private ferry services remained alive. “In the summer of 2011, the City launched a new private ferry service linking East River waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens to Midtown and Lower Manhattan,” according to a report.

Harlem Armory and Queens Pool: Going ahead with plans hatched in the Olympic bid plan, the city continued with renovation of the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem, which was to house the boxing events, and a public pool in Flushing, Queens, which was to be the venue for water polo.

Much of the above information has been culled from this fascinating report, “How New York City Won The Olympics”, by Mitchell L. Moss Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.