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OLYMPICS / ATHENS 2004

New York's Bid for 2012 Will Be a West Side Story

August 15, 2004|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

Black and white and grainy, an old photo shows Park Avenue in New York City circa 1900, the area a mass of rail yards, trains, engines and smoke.

Another photo, from 1913, shows a very different view. At the far end is Grand Central, the great railway terminal; in the foreground, the roadways, neat and clean, built over the rail yards. Yet another, from 1935, is even more dramatic. It shows how the opened-up roadways over the rail yards encouraged the construction of some of Midtown Manhattan's great skyscrapers.

Now comes the prospect of the Olympic Games in New York in 2012. And, according to proponents of the bid, in much the same way the cleanup of Park Avenue opened up Midtown, a far-reaching construction plan could revitalize the far West Side of Manhattan -- with a new stadium, expansion of the city's convention center and extension to the Hudson River of the No. 7 subway line from Midtown.

New York's ambitious plans for a West Side makeover, estimated to cost in the billions of dollars, would go forward even without an Olympic bid, New York municipal and bid officials insist. But plans for a New York bid underscore one of the most profound elements of the modern Olympic process: the Games as a spark for wide-ranging development that can change the look and feel of a city.

Dan Doctoroff, the deputy mayor who also heads the New York Olympic bid committee, calls the area the city's "last frontier." He also acknowledged in a recent interview, "We are seeking to use the Olympics, even the process of bidding for the Olympics, as a catalyst to truly historic urban transformation."

In Athens, this was the plan all along. In time -- barely -- for the 2004 Games, the city has new metro and other rail lines, highways, housing and sports facilities. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge called it "a remarkable urban legacy."

Projected total cost for the Greek government: $7 billion, up from about $5 billion. Some say the total could top $10 billion.

In Beijing, the government has pledged to spend $30 billion to get ready for the 2008 Summer Games, with plans for roads, railroads, airports, telecommunications links and sewage system, as well as for improving the city's environment.

Are such enormous expenditures worth it? Critics say no.

"There are other, more efficient ways, more cost-efficient ways of promoting urban development, redevelopment, revitalization, those kinds of goals. It doesn't take an Olympics to do so," said Helen Lenskyj, a University of Toronto professor and author of two books that question the value of the Olympics. "And all this rhetoric about catalyst and leverage doesn't always play itself out in the final outcome."

But Greece's Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in a recent interview that he expected post-Games growth in tourism and other markets -- albeit with a big if.

"If all things run well during the Games, there will be a tremendous valued added ... in economic terms for Greece," he said.

Athens' struggles to get ready for the Games -- and the soaring cost overruns in Greece and in China -- threaten to limit the Games to the world's wealthiest nations. Meanwhile, the Games themselves, their size and scope, have become a logistical challenge of the first order. Nonetheless, there is no shortage of bidders.

Until the IOC trimmed the list, nine cities were in the race for the 2012 Games. The four that were cut: Rio de Janeiro; Havana; Istanbul, Turkey; and Leipzig, Germany. The five still in: New York, London, Moscow, Madrid and Paris.

The IOC will pick the 2012 site next July at an all-delegates meeting in Singapore. New York and other bid teams are scheduled to hold separate news conferences here today.

IOC President Jacques Rogge of Belgium has said many times that he worries that the Games are in danger of becoming too big.

A Summer Olympics means 10,500 athletes, 28 sports, millions of tickets, thousands of hotel rooms, dozens of venues. Security costs alone for the 2004 Games: $1.5 billion.

At the same time, however, the IOC insists that any city serious about bidding for the Olympics show a commitment to leaving what it calls a post-Games legacy -- development that makes it clear long after the Games leave town that they were there.

Thus London, for instance, aims to create an "Olympic Park" east of the central city. Madrid seeks to "transform and regenerate parts of the city." Paris wants to build a "SuperDome" in a "north cluster" of facilities; bid officials say it would "be a symbol of reconnection between Paris and its nearest north suburbs." And New York aims to remake its West Side.

Moscow, with its array of existing facilities -- it played host to the 1980 Summer Games -- is considered the longest shot in the 2012 race.

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