Citi Field 2
April 18, 2017 – great start, lousy finish at CitiField

I had never sat behind home plate in a baseball games. But I sat with my son about 10 rows back, staring straight down center field at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. It was mid-April in Queens, which meant it was a chilly evening. But the Mets were holding onto a 2-1 lead late into the game…until they didn’t. A dropped pop up by Jose Reyes led to the tying run, extra evenings, and the Metsies’ eventual demise. But as they say, it’s a long season. And I got to spend a few fun hours with my son in a beautiful ballpark.

When I was growing up, Shea Stadium was where we worshipped at the Mets’ altar. When it opened up in 1964, it carried the aura of the 1964 World’s Fair – of a bright shiny future! But as Shea Stadium, located next to the tennis courts of the US Open in Flushing Meadows Park – just a short bike ride from my home – got into it’s 40s, and major league teams were opening new and 21st century ballparks, Shea was looking and feeling its age.

The ownership of both the New York Mets and New York Yankees had been lobbying the New York City government to build new stadiums for years, but the city government showed little interest in allocating tax dollars or tax breaks in the early 2000, when the economy was weak. That is, until Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff’s New York City bid for the 2012 Olympics bandwagon went off the tracks.

As explained in Part 2 “West Side Story”, the NYC2012 organizers were pinning their hopes on approval for an American football stadium for the New York Jets on the Hudson Yards, over the Long Island Railroad terminal in the southern part of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. This stadium would also have played hosts to the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics. When the New York State government, only one month prior to the International Olympic Committee’s selection of the host city, rejected approval for a New York Jets stadium, the organizers suddenly had to scramble.

Citi Field 1
Me at Citi Field

According to this detailed report by Mitchell L. Moss Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, the New York City government suddenly became very interested in building a baseball stadium in Queens for the New York Mets, announcing a plan to help finance the new stadium, which would also host the Olympics. In those hectic 72 hours of negotiation, the New York Mets agreed to build and pay for a new stadium next to their old stadium for USD600 million. The city would not only not charge for use of the city property, they would spend $180 million on infrastructure projects around the stadium, as well as offer tax-free bonds for construction costs.

Moss explains in the report that “had the IOC awarded the 2012 Games to New York, the stadium would have been converted into an 80,000 seat Olympic stadium for the Games at a cost of $100 million – paid by the City and the State – then converted back to its original baseball configuration.”

In other words, thanks to the New York City bid for the 2012 Olympics, and the failure of the Mayor to win approval of a new stadium in Manhattan for the 2012 Olympics, plans for a new stadium in Queens came to fruition.

Citi Field was born.

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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.

 

 

Mayor Mike Bloomberg talking about NYC2012
Mayor Michael Bloomberg pitching NYC2012.

 

It was November, 2011, only a few months after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, and Michael Bloomberg was elected the new mayor of this broken metropolis, the wounds of 9-11 were still exposed and bleeding.

And yet, with Bloomberg’s appointment of Daniel L. Doctoroff as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding, the mayor triggered the start of a massive and well organized urban renewal development process that leveraged the Olympic Candidate bidding process to transform the city.

When he was an investment banker on Wall Street, Doctoroff was astonished to see the World Cup hosted in the United States at Giants Stadium in 1994, and how well received it was. He saw how one of the biggest events in the world was so welcome in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world. Since that time, Doctoroff had been on a mission to bring the Summer Olympic Games to New York City, and finally got the podium and the means to do so in the Bloomberg administration.

According to the report by Mitchell L. Moss Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, Doctoroff’s strategy was to bring together all of the independent development ideas and plans for various parts of New York City and see whether they could all be put to use in the service of an Olympics. In Moss’ fascinating report, “How New York City Won The Olympics” (yes, I stole his title), all of these independent development projects were meandering along until Doctoroff argued for simultaneous fulfilment of these projects using the idea of an Olympic Games in New York City as a driving vision.

The NYC2012 team built upon previous studies by municipal agencies and civic groups. What was perhaps unprecedented, was the effort to aggregate all these areas in an overall development plan. The Olympic presentation offered a broad five-borough agenda for future development that gave priority to these neglected areas for comprehensive City action. No comparable city-wide plan for short-term action, involving a broad range of targeted areas in all five boroughs, had ever been presented or carried out in the modern history of New York City.

2012 candidate city logos

Doctoroff was also able to use the Olympic Games candidate city bid process as a way to drive a planning cadence and a sense of urgency.

The Bloomberg Administration now sought to use the pressure of the fixed, Olympic bid timetable to push forward the legal and technical review and approval of these projects on an accelerated schedule so that by the time of the IOC decision in mid-2005, they would be positioned to go forward regardless of whether New York City’s bid was successful.

As you are aware, the 2012 Olympics went to London, and NYC finished fourth behind Paris and Madrid. Perhaps New York City was never really in the running. The official reasons were that the Winter Olympics would be in Vancouver in 2010, so they couldn’t have two Olympics in a row in North America – a fairly weak reason considering that from 2018 to 2022 three straight Olympics will be held in Asia. Perhaps the US invasion of Iraq, and the memories of 9-11 left a tiny tingling fear in the amygdala of the IOC members.

Regardless of the bid vote, the Bloomberg administration was committed, in the aftermath of 9-11, to revitalize New York City across all five boroughs in a way unprecedented since the Robert Moses years. And as you can read in Part 4, many of the development plans designed for the NYC2012 Candidate bid were pushed forward.

Economist Andrew Zimbalist has written a fascinating book on the economics of Big Tent sporting events like the Olympics called Circus Maximus – The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. He writes eloquently about how often the economic impact on host cities is negative. But Zimbalist cites the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as the poster child for how to do it right. And as you can see in his advice, New York City followed the Barcelona template:

In 1983, city planners put out a preliminary report on the feasibility of hosting the Olympics and concluded that the refurbishment of the 1936 stadium in Montjuic (which became the Olympic Stadium) and the construction of the Sports Palace and Swimming facility would be undertaken whether or not the city was selected to host the games. Of the thirty-seven sports facilities ultimately used during the 1992 Olympics, twenty-seven were already built and another five were under construction at the time Spain was selected to host the games in 1986. Thus a central feature of the Barcelona experience is that the plan preceded the games, and hence the games were put at the service of the preexisting plan, rather than the typical pattern of the city development plan being put at the service of the games.

 

Hudson Yards circa 2004
Hudson Yards circa 2004

In late 2004, New York City wasn’t seen as having much of a chance to win the right to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, at least by bookmakers in London. According to a November 16, 2004 Newsday article, Paris was viewed as 1-2 favorites – in other words, for every $2 you put down on Paris, you’d win $1 assuming Paris won. London and Madrid were seen as good chances as well, at 3-1 and 4-1 respectively. New York City was considered unlikely at 14-1, although Moscow seemed out of the running with 33-1 odds. Europe appeared to have a lock on the 2012 Games.

New York City had advantages: a modern metropolis with world-class facilities in a compact area, a diverse and energetic populace, financial feasibility, as well as a powerful PR man in Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The organizers of the Paris Olympic bid were dismissive of the bid coming out of the US. After all, Paris is not only the birthplace of the modern Olympics, it had hosted the Olympics three times, and had more recently built up credibility over two previous bids. New York City, on the other hand, was the biggest city in the increasingly unpopular United States and President George Bush, who led the surprising charge into Iraq. With America fighting such an unpopular war, what is to stop terrorists from targeting New York City again during the Olympic Games?

As Jean-Paul Huchon, the vice president of the Paris Olympic bidding committee put it, “The position of the French government on the international scene, especially after the re-election of George Bush, is going to allow us to have more unity around the French candidacy,” he said in a November 18, 2004 International Herald Tribune article. “This is indisputable. If these are supposed to be the Games of brotherhood and solidarity, this would be more easily achieved in Paris.”

Perhaps that issue weighed heavily in the minds of the International Olympic Committee. Perhaps not. It’s possible that the bigger advantage that Paris had over NYC was that Paris had The Stade de France – a newly built stadium that seated over 81,000 in the center of Paris. At the last stage in the bidding process in February, 2004, New York City still did not have a definitive plan for a stadium.

Proposed West Side Stadium for the New York Jets
Proposed West Side Stadium for the New York Jets

This was New York’s 20th century West Side Story.

And strangely enough, it involved The Jets.

In the 26-acre area squared in by 30th and 42nd streets, and Tenth Avenue and the Hudson River, is the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train terminal where trains departing Penn Station a few blocks away rest. It has been an open air eyesore in a poorly developed part of Manhattan, that had been a target for development and reinvigoration by city planners for decades. The fact that there was no subway service to that area, among other reasons, made it a challenging decision to give he go ahead to further develop this massive plot.

But when the Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg teamed up for a vision of an Olympics across all five boroughs of New York City, its center in Manhattan, momentum began to build for the establishment of an Olympic Stadium in area called the West Side, but they began to call the Hudson Yards. The American football team – the New York Jets – were bought by Woody Johnson four years previously. His Jets were sharing a stadium with the New York Giants in New Jersey, and so Johnson wanted to have a stadium exclusively for his team. Thus was hatched a plan for The New York Jets to spend $800 million for a stadium on the West Side, with the city and state governments providing another $600 million to fund the construction of the platform that would cover the trains and tracks of the terminal.

The vision included the stadium’s linkage to the aging Jacob Javits convention center, which was the city’s premier convention center, but tiny compared to the centers in other major cities. The new stadium would include a roof that would open up a massive amount of space for conventions, and thus potentially attract significant business and visitors to the Big Apple.

And yet, this was not a vision universally approved. For one, James Dolan, the owner of Cablevision and Madison Square Garden, objected to a rival sports complex opening literally blocks away from his own. Dolan not only aired critical ads against the proposed stadium, he eventually fought back by offering the Metropolitan Transit Authority a bid to compete with the new York Jets’ bid.

Additionally, voices were vociferously raised against the stadium by people living in the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the nearby theater district, who saw the increased construction and traffic as a problem worth protesting.

west side stadium

So even before the IOC voted on which city to select for 2012, a New York State board called the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), put a dagger in the heart of the New York City bid. The PACB represents the New York State governor and the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly, and they voted to not approve the plans for the stadium and the convention center extension, perhaps reluctant to use significant state funds for a massive city project.

In the end, the London bookies were right – the winning money was indeed on London. The Jets would remain in New Jersey. And New Yorkers would get on with their lives. Fuhgetaboutit.