NYC2012 planning lasting legacy

Updated: May 18, 2004, 12:13 PM ET
By Steve Woodward | Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- When Detroit native but bona fide New Yorker Daniel Doctoroff pitches the merits of the city's bid to become host to the 2012 Olympic Games, he is not timid about saying things like, "You won't believe you're in The Bronx," or "You won't even feel like you're in New York City."

New York might well be, as the NYC2012 organization constantly points out, the "world's second home." Yet for the millions who visit for business, entertainment or shopping, their orientation to the city often is midtown Manhattan, SoHo, Central Park and the frequently daunting, traffic-snarled ride in from one of three major airports.

Current Olympic site
The proposed site for the Olympic Village would be in a mostly undeveloped area in Queens with a view of the United Nations.
In that context, even New York's biggest fans are inclined, at first blush, to wonder why anyone would consider this most famous of cities an appropriate site for the Olympic Games.

So in addition to raising staggering sums of private money -- the projected operating budget, including venues other than a proposed main stadium, is $3.625 billion -- Doctoroff, New York's deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, and his NYC2012 team also must raise awareness, they believe, of the vast potential hidden across Manhattan and within the surrounding boroughs.

The group sees the 2012 Olympic Games as a way to help revive forgotten jewels such as an abandoned Queens swimming center built in 1936, develop new neighborhoods, restore the environment in areas that have become wastelands, and create sensational Olympic competition venues that will have many uses after the Games.

"How in the world are you going to fit all of those sports in Manhattan? Well, you can't," says native Ivan Lee, 23, a 2004 Olympic fencing qualifier. "So it's a good thing we've got four more boroughs and part of New Jersey. I'm from Brooklyn, but I live in Queens now. Queens is actually the largest of the five boroughs. Queens is huge. When you get out of Manhattan, this city is huge."

Doctoroff's 10-year quest arrives at a crucial point Tuesday when the International Olympic Committee formally recognizes its finalists in the 2012 race. The IOC executive board is scheduled to issue its "short list," although the body is not required to trim even one city among the nine candidates: Havana; Istanbul; Leipzig; London; Madrid; Moscow; New York; Paris; and Rio de Janeiro.

Havana and Leipzig are most likely to be cut, but after Tuesday, the remaining bid organizations will receive an IOC evaluation of their responses from earlier this year to an exhaustive questionnaire. This November, NYC2012 must submit a formal "bid book," a super-detailed overview of its plan, before bracing for the arrival of an IOC evaluation commission in February or March 2005. The reports by that commission have enormous influence on IOC members' perceptions of the candidates because of regulations that stipulate members no longer are allowed to make personal visits as guests of the bid organizations.

The full IOC makes its final decision on July 6, 2005, during meetings in Singapore.

Ahead of that flurry of potentially defining moments, NYC2012 and its competitors will send delegations to Athens this August during the Olympic Games to see and be seen.

Doctoroff
Doctoroff
The transportation and related logistical issues facing an overpopulated Athens, some would argue, are also likely to be concerns for those looking for flaws in the NYC2012 plan. But Doctoroff, 45, a former venture capitalist who achieved financial independence in his 30s, again points to a potentially overlooked attribute of the city's geography -- abundant waterways.

The organization's Olympic "X Plan" turns the East River into a primary travel artery for a fleet of high-speed ferries, mostly dedicated to transporting Olympic athletes, Games officials and others with special access, and also utilizes the city's extensive mass transit network.

"Ninety-five percent of athletes will never have to (travel) on a New York road," Doctoroff says. "No venue is more than 20 miles from the Olympic Village (to be built from scratch in Queens), and all but three venues are in New York City."

The other arm of the X Plan relies on eventual approval of an extended No. 7 subway line to serve a proposed $1.4 billion Olympic Stadium (and future home of the New York Jets), a sprawling public park and expanded Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, all components of a $5.5 billion plan to redevelop a large chunk of Manhattan's west side, a plan that has numerous critics who have yet to be converted. Proponents note, as one reason to go forward, that the Javits Center currently ranks a meager 18th among the nation's convention facilities in terms of square footage.

"We have taken an opportunity to rethink an entire area of the city," Doctoroff says. "It is a bold plan to transform this blighted area into one of New York's greatest places."

The proposed $1.5 billion village, privately funded and operated by an independent development entity, is one of the examples Doctoroff frequently points to in terms of how the Games will leave a positive legacy by transforming neglected areas of the city into new residential hotbeds. These enhanced or, in some cases, newly developed locations show how the Olympic Games will coax developers and government officials into investing in a variety of projects that might otherwise have been put aside indefinitely, he says.

One such project is the development of housing in Queens. As proposed now, the Olympic Village would occupy largely abandoned land by the East River, with views of the United Nations on the opposite shore, and would accommodate 16,000. After the Games, the entire facility would go on the real-estate market as residential property.

Olympic Village
A mock rendering shows one of the final five proposals for the Olympic Village to be constructed along the East River.
As an American media and sports hot spot, New York's Games naturally have access to some familiar, existing facilities in the region, such as Continental Airlines Arena (basketball) and Giants Stadium (soccer) in New Jersey, Javits Center (weightlifting and wrestling, among others), Madison Square Garden (gymnastics), Nassau Coliseum (team handball), National Tennis Center (tennis) and Yankee Stadium (baseball). But some of the niche Olympic sports would find homes in the aesthetically appealing, regenerated venues covering land foreign to most visitors, not to mention most New Yorkers.

A notable example is the proposed flatwater canoe and rowing venue in Queens, site of the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs. These two manmade lakes, Doctoroff points out, are full of sediment and are environmental time bombs. The NYC2012 plan is to dredge, replenish and join the lakes, creating one continuous course for rowers and canoeists. Ultimately, they will be surrounded by "bio-filtering wetlands," Doctoroff says.

Nearby, a similar project will convert a cesspool -- the World's Fair "Fountain of the Planets" attraction 40 years ago -- into the site of slalom canoeing that also will have boathouses for recreational users. Four soccer fields are planned around the periphery to maximize the area's rebirth. Also in Queens, a pool built for the U.S. Olympic swim team trials in 1936, now a decaying relic, would be refurbished on the original site.

Another example of the plan's use of existing space hidden from public awareness is a proposed Olympic shooting center in The Bronx. On a spit of land called Rodman's Neck on Pelham Bay, the existing facility is an aging range used for New York Police Department training. After the Games, it would be a modern police academy site that also could accommodate future shooting competition and training.

Doctoroff often references the NYPD when discussing the significance of a plan that has a high concentration of venues in the New York boroughs. It is not only a matter of convenience, he says. It also means the entire Olympic security operation is turned over to the NYPD, which today has close to 40,000 law enforcement personnel.

"We handle 600 events a year below 59th Street," city police commissioner Ray Kelly told New York magazine in a story on NYPD security plans for this summer's Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden. "We're in this business. It's what we do."

Similarly, the notion of the Olympic Games in New York strikes at least one famous resident as an obvious one.

"We are a bunch of dreamers, a bunch of doers," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week, introducing Doctoroff to a pre-Athens Games media summit hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Bloomberg added, "(Doctoroff) is one of the best things that ever happened to New York City."

It is far from certain that New York can win next year's contest for 2012, especially given the lingering, horrific memory of what happened here on Sept. 11, 2001. Paris is viewed as a front-runner. Despite Brazil's frequently unstable economy, some within the IOC are looking long and hard at Rio de Janeiro, as the Games never have been staged in that part of the world. But even if the Games are awarded to New York, it would likely spawn a brief celebration followed by seven years of political and philosophical turf battles.

"Everything in New York stirs controversy," said Lee, who is an authentic saber rattler. "It's New York. And there will be controversies. Some people are going to complain about the traffic. Yeah, there's going to be traffic; but we have trains, we have buses. One thing you can say about New Yorkers is that when there is a lot of stuff going on, New Yorkers have a way of dealing with it."

Steve Woodward is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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