With stadium stalled, so are New York's Olympic dreams
The city has rejected a proposal to build a $2 billion Olympic stadium this week.
NEW YORK — New York City has hosted a World's Fair, countless World Series, and the galactic vision of conceptual artists.
Yet New Yorkers have never watched an Olympic flame flare up against the city's dramatic skyline. And now they may have to wait some more for that to happen, as the city's plans to host the 2012 Games appear to have come unglued faster than a 100-meter dash.
On Monday, two state political leaders refused to provide the funds for an Olympics Stadium that would also be used by the New York Jets football team. With the International Olympic Committee due to announce a winning city on July 6, the city has little time to find an alternative to the site, which was on the far west side of Manhattan. Failure to secure the Olympics would once again focus the city on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, an effort that has become mired down.
If the Olympics don't come to the city, it will throw cold water on a lot of dreams. Millions of New Yorkers - with the help of endorsements from everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Donald Trump - began to practice relays and imagine horseback riding on Staten Island. Mayor Michael Bloomberg saw the Games as a way to revitalize blighted areas and provide tens of thousands of new jobs. He viewed the Olympics and the stadium as "one of the smartest investments New York City can make in its own future."
Even while polls showed most New Yorkers supported the Olympics, they also found many opposed the domed stadium and the prospect of a huge real estate development around it. At the same time, Sheldon Silver, who both represents lower Manhattan and is the Democratic leader of the New York State Assembly, decided the addition of 24 million square feet of office space would detract from development downtown. On Monday, Mr. Silver and Joe Bruno, the Senate majority leader, both abstained from voting on the funding for stadium.
Despite the vote, political analysts don't think it will hurt Mayor Bloomberg in his reelection campaign. Most of his Democratic challengers had come out against the stadium. "It removes the only argument his enemies used against him," says Ed Koch, the former mayor.
If the city's Olympic bid is turned down, it's not clear what will happen to the development just south of the Jacob Javits Convention Center. At the moment the area is dominated by a railyard. The surrounding area is heavy with auto repair shops, car dealerships, storage facilities, and parking lots. There are few restaurants and bars.
Papu Khan, owner of a gas station in the area, will be glad to see the stadium effort die. Last month he attended a rally to protest it. "It would put me out of business," he explains. "The owner would rent out the place to someone else" to get more money.
But Terry Reilly, owner of O'Farrell's, a local bar, would be sorry to see the development fail. "There's nothing else around here," he says, "We need the business."
This is not the first time development plans for the area have been killed. Gov. Mario Cuomo suggested the New York Yankees build a stadium there. Then, five years later, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani revived the idea.
Despite all these failures, some believe the area will ultimately get developed. "I can't imagine because New York is a thriving city right now that all plans for development in the area will be stymied for good or even for the short term," says Louise Mirrer, president of the New York historical society.
Even some activists who opposed the project envision mixed-use development in the area.
"We recognize something will be built there," says John Fisher, president of the Clinton Special District Coalition. "If they are going to spend $300 million to cover the rail yards, we realize it will be something sizable, but we want it to be of mixed use with affordable housing for the working class."
Next month, one of these cities will be chosen to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.
• New York