This past Saturday, the United States Olympic Committee named New York City as its candidate for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. I can’t remember when I first heard about the campaign, but I do know that my reaction was something to the effect of “The Olympics in New York? You’ve got to be kidding.”
But after reviewing the city’s bid, I’m jumping on the Olympic bandwagon.
I am a very proud New Yorker. I like to think I can spot a tourist, or impostor, as I like to call them, from miles away. I’d take public transportation over driving any day, and don’t even get me started on those people who don’t know proper sidewalk etiquette. So why in the world would I want thousands of camera-toting, map-carrying Olympic spectators flocking to my city?
Because the Olympics is the biggest sporting stage in the world. And New York is the biggest stage in the world, period. So it only makes sense that the world’s most significant sporting event would take place in one of the world’s most significant cities.
I’ve also done an about-face because of the clarity and organization of the bid from NYC2012, New York’s bid committee. It understood that an Olympics in New York presents unique challenges and obstacles. As such, the group’s presentation to the USOC answered all the major questions about the undertaking.
For example, because New York is so dense and crowded, many people automatically assumed that what the bid group meant by “the Olympics will be in New York,” was “the Olympics will be near New York.”
But NYC2012’s plan actually calls for all but three of the Olympic events to take place within the five boroughs. Giants Stadium and Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., will host soccer and basketball, respectively, and Nassau Coliseum on Long Island will host the handball event. This plan was a stark contrast to San Francisco’s competing bid, which scattered events in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Santa Clara, San Jose and Palo Alto.
The next obvious argument against a New York City Olympics is traffic — the bane of every New Yorker’s existence. People are so concerned about the potential gridlock, however, that I bet there will be fewer cars on the street during the Games than during the rest of the year. In addition, in late July and early August there are 1 million fewer people in the city anyway. Finally, NYC2012 designed the venues on an “X” grid. A ferry will transport athletes and spectators along the north-south axis and a railroad line will run along the east-west axis. Other subway lines, such as the No. 7 line of John Rocker fame, would be expanded. I have to say, any upgrading of the subway system is OK by me.
However, the most contentious issue is the proposed building of a $1 billion Olympic Stadium on the Upper West Side. New Yorkers have been down this road before when Mayor Giuliani tried to build a new Yankee Stadium on the site and protests were loud and frequent. But those protests were as much about the idea of having the Yankees leave their storied home in the Bronx as they were about building a stadium in Manhattan. The complaints this time around are about ruining the neighborhood and, of course, gridlock.
Recent stadium architecture has shown that new ballparks and arenas do not have to destroy neighborhoods or local communities. In fact, many of the newer ballparks, such as baseball’s Camden Yards and Jacobs Field, integrate seamlessly into the surrounding city. There’s no reason why an Olympic Stadium on the West Side couldn’t do the same thing. And it’s not like the stadium is going to replace Riverside Park. It would be built over railroad tracks next to the West Side Highway, neither of which adds much character to the cityscape.
Furthermore, the National Football League and the New York Jets have agreed to put up at least $400 million toward the stadium so that the Jets can play there after the Games. That would mean that the New York Jets would no longer have to play in New Jersey and share Giants Stadium with the Giants. Makes sense, no?
The 2012 New York Olympics would be expensive, there’s no argument about that. But in the city’s post-Sept. 11, 2001 recession, the Games represent a chance to rejuvenate the city’s economy. And the 2012 Olympics will come on the heels of the 10-year anniversary of the attacks. What better way to say “in your face” to the terrorists than to celebrate the Olympic motto of “swifter, higher, stronger” just miles from ground zero?
Obviously, all of this could be a moot point if the International Olympic Committee doesn’t pick New York in 2005. And convincing the IOC will be an uphill battle for NYC2012. The competition is strong, with Rome, Toronto, Moscow and Istanbul all in the running, and if another North American city is awarded the 2010 Winter Games, the Olympics probably won’t return to the continent two years later.
But the job of the USOC this past weekend was to pick the American city with the best chance of bringing the Games back stateside in 2012, and the committee did just that. So start spreading the news: the best city for the Olympics is the Big Apple.