The five-day steeplechase that the 13 members from the International Olympics Committee begin on Sunday, to evaluate New York’s bid for the 2012 Olympics, looks like something Dennis Kozlowski would have planned for his wife’s birthday. But instead of money-though the trip will cost the Olympics Committee $1 million, nobody’s planning to do a Salt Lake City-it uses old-fashioned New York razzle-dazzle.
So the visitors will be chauffeured down Fifth Avenue just as a fencing match takes place on the steps of the New York Public Library. They will look out at Central Park and see 100 members of the Road Runners Club racing through Christo’s Gates.
For their one night out on the town, it’ll be home cooking: They dine at the Bloomberg mansion before being conveyed by horse-drawn carriages to a special performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center-or rather, Jazz at Time Warner Center.
That’s the fun stuff. The team members will also spend hours inside conference rooms at the Plaza Hotel, watching high-tech slide shows presented by big guns like Representative Charles Rangel, swimming gold medalist Donna de Varona, and our very own in-house celebrities, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his deputy, Daniel Doctoroff.
All that Olympic spirit, though, may not be able to overcome the weaknesses in New York’s bid-weaknesses that are putting it in fourth place, according to odds set by the British betting house Ladbrokes, weaknesses that include the very complexity of the Games and its 33 venues.
Odds-makers might be tempted to rank the city just below Moscow in light of the M.T.A.’s Feb. 15 announcement: Not only was it considering the plan put forward by the Dolan family’s Madison Square Garden and Cablevision outfit-which the Mayor had dismissed as a cynical ploy to maintain a monopoly over the arena business in Manhattan-but they were going to open the development of their railyards, the crux of the city’s Olympics proposals, to a full competitive bid.
There is one concession to the New York Jets-the first to offer a deal, after all, by some years: If the team can match the Dolans’ $350 million offer, the Olympics could stay in play.
And who, after all, besides the Dolans, already so far outside the Mayor’ s circle of political friends, would dare to counter that offer?
In fact, the sense that the Bloomberg administration would not look kindly on local developers who defied City Hall’s Olympics plan set the scene for a particularly scathing bit of swordsmanship by Robert Yaro, chairman of the good-government planning group, the Regional Plan Association (long detractors of the stadium plan): “There is still reason to be concerned that local developers will be unwilling to bid given the political nature of the situation,” Mr. Yaro said in a press release, “and we urge the Bloomberg administration to actively support an open bidding process.”
Actively support competitors, just as they’re trying to show the I.O.C. they have a lock on their plans to hold the Olympics? To think that the day before was Valentine’s Day, and Mr. Doctoroff so recently was the M.T.A.’s only real suitor. He sounded more chipper, then.
“I think this visit isn’t going to put us over the top or not put us over the top,” Mr. Doctoroff said at a press conference Monday, “but it’s absolutely critical. What we have to more than anything is demonstrate New York’s passion for the games, our organizational abilities and our ability to partner effectively with the Olympic movement. Obviously, we have to answer all of their questions-and we expect literally hundreds of them over the course of four and a half days-to their satisfaction.”
The I.O.C. visitors will parse New York’s application like Cleanth Brooks studying a John Keats poem, and spend two days touring site venues that have been spiffed up for the visit. The visitors will likely have heard about the uncertainty over the main stadium on the West Side. But two other Olympic venues are perhaps even more tentative. In the bid book, NYC2012 lists the land for the gymnastics arena in central Brooklyn and the swimming pool in Williamsburg as currently belonging to the state and city respectively, when in fact some of it is privately owned.
In central Brooklyn, developer Bruce Ratner has proposed building a basketball arena for his newly acquired Nets at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, with an office and residential complex nearby. Mr. Ratner would then lease the arena to the Olympics come 2012. The M.T.A. owns about a third of the arena triangle, and Forest City Ratner has been buying up much of the rest, but six or seven other parcels, directly in the arena footprint or adjacent to it, are in private hands.
“Not only do I own it, but I have approved plans to build. I just haven’t built it,” said Menachem Friedfertig, a Brooklyn landlord who bought 622 Pacific Street at an auction more than a year ago. Mr. Ratner’s folks made an offer a year ago, but Mr. Friedfertig turned them down. “In fact, when I met with them, I said, ‘I think I’m against your backboard,’ and they said, ‘Actually, you’re in our grandstands.’
“I really had my hopes set on developing it. It was going to be my first development project. It was my little baby. It was going to be a cute little brownstone thing.”
A union hall owns a parcel along the southern edge, U-Haul owns a lot along the northern wall, and Daniel Goldstein owns a condo in a building that would put him in center court-or, come 2012, the floor-exercise mat.
Mr. Goldstein helped found a group, Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, that is adamantly against the arena. He has no plans to sell, and he doesn’t think he will: Next week, the Supreme Court hears a case whose outcome could severely restrict a city’s ability to condemn property for economic development.
The aquatics center and beach-volleyball court would go along the waterfront between approximately North Sixth and North 12th streets. But Bayside Fuel still retains title to a seven-acre piece where the bleachers overlooking the swimming pool would go. And Bayside has given another company, TransGas Energy, an option to buy and put a natural-gas power plant there.
TransGas has said it will cooperate with the city and put the power plant underground-but if it doesn’t get a state permit, Bayside will hold onto the land. “If I stay in business, I am adamantly opposed to any Olympics,” said Vincent Allegretti, third-generation owner of Bayside. “I have a business to run.”
NYC2012 executive director Jay Kriegel, caught in the middle of a week’s worth of rehearsals for the visit, couldn’t address who owns what property, but he acknowledged that plans for both sites were complex.
“In the bid book, we have limited space as to what we can say,” he said. “That is exactly what they are coming to discuss. What did we say about the land there, I don’t know-I’ll have to go look for it.”
Opposition to the West Side stadium, the Brooklyn arena and the aquatics center may not doom New York’s bid, however. I.O.C.’s own polling showed strong support for the bid.
Of course, the people aren’t always heard: Public opinion counted for less than 1 percent in last year’s ranking of candidate cities. (New York came in fourth, after Paris, London and Madrid and before Moscow.)
Nonetheless, neighborhood activists are trying to make sure the I.O.C. visitors know about the development disputes. Mr. Goldstein, of Develop-Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, and a trio of activist groups from Williamsburg, the West Side and central Brooklyn, sent separate letters last week to Nawal El Moutawakel, the Moroccan hurdler who is chairing the evaluation commission, asking for a meeting while she is in town. (She has already agreed to meet with disgruntled business owners in London whose stores would be bulldozed to make way for venues there.)
Short of that, a couple of groups say that they are ready to stage protests. “We just fear that the Mayor is so good at schmoozing and song-and-dancing people that he’ll sugar-coat the concern of the people in downtown Brooklyn, the West Side and here in Williamsburg,” said Phil DePaolo, community liaison for the People’s Firehouse, a community organization that got hundreds of people out to protest a rezoning plan last month.
Just where they would stage these protests remains unclear: The itinerary so far made public doesn’t divulge which venue sites the team will be visiting at any one time. In Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, activists will hang banners outside their apartments, visible to anyone who takes a look at the gymnastics arena.
“One is an outline of a horse-a wooden horse, a Trojan horse-with the Olympic rings in the appropriate colors,” said Patti Hagan, a property owner and founder of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition. “Others are being done right now that say, ‘ Les Jeux a Paris? Oui!’ And then there’s one being done in Cyrillic which says, ‘ Games in Moscow? Da!'”
The disputes over the venues is only part of what Doctoroff and Co. will have to head off, but it is an important part of what critics of the bid see as unnecessarily complicated and costly. Brian Hatch, who was deputy mayor of Salt Lake City during the run-up to the 2002 Winter Games, said the New York Olympics would really cost $12 billion once costs like the West Side stadium, acquisition of the Williamsburg waterfront and other capital expenditures are included. “It is because of the venues that New York’s is the most expensive bid,” said Mr. Hatch, now a planning consultant in New York and operator of the anti-stadium, pro-games Web site http://www.newyorkgames.org. “London’s is higher, but that’s because they want to spend $12 billion on transportation projects.”
And that matters, Mr. Hatch said. He points to a speech made in October 2003 by I.O.C. president Jacques Rogge outlining three priorities for candidate cities: security, care of athletes, and control over cost and complexity. “We want to reduce the gigantism of the games,” he said, according to an Olympics press release-the point being to let the nations of Africa and South America have a shot at one day playing host. “It is hard to find the balance in terms of providing all the things needed to host the Games, whilst at the same time avoiding unnecessary costs which might be a burden to the city.”
Gigantism is what New York does best, and no one-least of all the 50 to 200 members of the foreign press corps covering the visit-will be spared. These are the folks who will carry New York’s marketing message back to the 110 I.O.C. members who won’t come along for the trip, and they’ll be treated to cocktail receptions at the Rainbow Room and the New York Athletic Club and “newsmaker lunches” with former Senator and Olympian Bill Bradley and other dignitaries.
The I.O.C. issued a warning last September that it would apply the same rules to reporters that now prohibit candidate cities from lavishing gifts and luxuries on I.O.C. members. But Mr. Kriegel said that any freebies the reporters receive are what they would expect to get within the course of doing their jobs.
“We’re running a full press tour,” he said. “‘Press tour’ means newsmaker lunches and events from morning to night. All the events are [for] information gathering.”
That includes a ticket to the performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center, or wherever that thing is now. What’s on the program is a surprise.