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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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.