“Over the past 10 years, we have rebuilt, rezoned, and refashioned huge swaths of the city,” he declared proudly. “Rail yards are becoming New York’s next great neighborhoods. A rail line has become New York’s newest great park. A military base will become New York’s next great park. We have reclaimed our formerly decrepit waterfront for housing and recreation. Roosevelt Island will become the intellectual center of a burgeoning tech industry. We are not a city that plays small ball.”
In his email, Mr. Doctoroff explained the ideas, some new, some old, some variations on the old, were all designed to connect the progress that had come before. The gondolas would provide more reliable access to Governors Island, allowing it to become a 24/7 community, one that Mr. Doctoroff suggested would become “a hub for another emerging industry, like global health.” As for the light rail line, it would run along Kent Avenue and Vernon Boulevard, among other generally quiet waterfront thoroughfares. “Brooklyn is hot,” Mr. Doctoroff intoned. “It is Queens’ turn next.”
But the clincher was Sunnyside, demonstrating the kind of big-picture, nothing-is-impossible thinking that characterized Mr. Doctoroff’s tenure at City Hall. He called it “a huge swath or rail yards,” repeating the phrase three times, to laughter from audience, before pointing out that it “forms a scar through the middle of Queens.” Indeed, this project, bigger than Hudson, Atlantic and the Hoboken PATH yards combined, reminded people all too well of the Doctoroff days.
Proposals for such a project have been in the works for four decades, but Mr. Doctoroff brought some new innovations to the table. For starters, he believes the time is finally right to justify the massive investment such a project would entail. The starting point would be dividing the plan up into parcels, so the entire yards would not have to be decked at once but could instead be done progressively. And the timing for that first parcel could not be better, Mr. Doctoroff suggested.
“Let’s borrow an idea from Governor Cuomo and move Javits to Queens, this time, though, to a location that is one or two subway stops from Midtown,” Mr. Doctoroff explained. “You could pay for a big part of it by selling Javits’ land on the West Side, which is more valuable today because of the No. 7 extension, and we could draw a wider array of conventions to less expensive hotels in Long Island City are built.”
He pointed out that while some might complain that the location is not Manhattan, it is close enough and has its clear advantages, including space and affordablility, an approach that Mr. Doctoroff said he witnessed this summer at the London Olympics, where a new convention center had been built in a formerly industrial part of the East End.
The final slide of the presentation, a joke, Mr. Doctoroff later insisted, was the one missing piece from his legacy realized at Sunnyside Yards. “You know, it could even be the site for a temporary Olympic Stadium,” he said, to more laughs, “but I leave that to future visionaries.”
The whole affair left us feeling dizzy. Many in the city, particularly in the business class, have been hungering for a candidate who could be the successor to Mike Bloomberg. Could this be the one? The rhetoric was certainly there, as Mr. Doctoroff’s final words on stage made clear.
“Big visions like this are what have defined New York,” he said. “But they don’t happen by accident. They take guts and imagination. They require an intuitive understanding of what are New York’s unique advantages in a competitive world. They demand the skill to generate the revenues so we can afford to be the kind of city we aspire to be.”
Now who could have those qualities? Perhaps Dan Doctoroff?
“Just to be clear, I have zero interest in running for Mayor, so, if the premise of the story is that I am somehow putting myself out there, then I don’t want to engage,” Mr. Doctoroff said in response to the first email The Observer sent him asking him as much. “If it is about what I said on Friday, then I am happy to talk.”
In a follow-up email, he explained that he gave the speech because he was asked, though he also admitted to constantly be thinking up new and far-out plans for the city.
“I visit all of the leading cities of the world on a regular basis, so it is hard to avoid what they are doing and I have always been fascinated with cities anyway,” Mr. Doctoroff explained. “That said, I am quite focused on Bloomberg, so it is probably best to characterize my thoughts as musings.”
For better or worse, bigger or badder, the city could use more of these kinds of musings.