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Olympics Plan Advances

New York City’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic Summer Games cleared a hurdle today, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) narrowed the field from nine cities to five. Paris, London, Madrid, and Moscow join New York in the final round, with a decision expected in July 2005. Havana, Istanbul, Leipzig and Havana fell out of contention.

The decision was not really in doubt, given the well publicized conclusions of an IOC technical committee, which found “a high level of confidence” that Paris, London, Madrid, and New York could stage the games successfully. It found Moscow’s capabilities just barely adequate, so the inclusion of Moscow in the final five is about the only surprise. The report found that the other four cities “do not have the requisite level of capability at this time.”

Bookmakers have installed Paris as an 11-10 favorite to land the 2012 games, with London at 5-4, Madrid 7-1, New York 8-1, and Moscow 20-1. Paris scored highly on all of the IOC’s criteria, it has already been through the bid process twice (1992 and 2008), and it hasn’t hosted an Olympics since 1924. New York suffers because Vancouver, B.C., has already been awarded the 2012 Winter Games, and the IOC doesn’t like to hold consecutive games on the same continent. New York’s bid has other problems. Significant infrastructure, much of it as yet unfunded, would need to be built between now and 2012. The Olympic bid has garnered at best lukewarm public support, and internationally there could well be an anti-American backlash among the highly politicized IOC voters, because of the Iraq invasion.

One major piece of unbuilt infrastructure is the Olympic Stadium, officially known as the “New York Sports and Convention Center.” Promoters chose that name to deflect attention from the fact that, should the Olympics bid fail, the facility will be primarily known as the new home of the New York Jets. The Jets are proposing to contribute $800 million of their own money, but they also expect about $600 million of public money, and some community leaders are skeptical about appropriating such a hefty sum so that a profitable football team can play eight home dates a year.

The stadium design was unveiled today. It’s a thing of beauty - at least in the artist’s renderings. The Jets and Deputy Mayor Doctoroff desperately hope to break ground before next July, both to demonstrate to the IOC that New York’s Olympics plans are real, and to give the stadium a raison d’etre other than hosting Jets football games.

The Jets are clearly eager to demonstrate that the stadium is more than just corporate welfare for a carpetbagging football team. They say:

The NYSCC will have something for everyone in the neighborhood. Beyond the projected schedule of 17 stadium events, 30 conventions, and two super-events per year, the Center will host daily events and activities for the members of the community and visitors.

Along 34th Street, the full city block will be dedicated to a grand public space, ceremoniously connecting the Hudson River and the Highline to 34th Street. The revitalized 34th Street corridor will feature a promenade transforming one of the city’s most overcrowded streets to provide pedestrians with a peaceful and stunning view of the stadium and river, amid trees, gardens and benches. The promenade will also conveniently provide street level access through a series of ramps and stairs around the Center and onto the Highline as it threads its way south.

I remain highly skeptical that the new stadium will really enjoy that much use, and with the Olympics bid remaining a long-shot, it’s a dubious investment.

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