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Stadium of Dreams

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Doctoroff says that those who claim the Jets are getting a $600 million handout are engaged in “superficial thinking.” He sees the stadium as a revenue generator, a business venture rather than a gift. “The building itself will be a significant contributor to city and state coffers,” he says. The city will issue bonds to pay for most of its share. “The annual debt service on the bonds will be $42 million over 30 years. In its first year of operation, the building will produce $72 million in tax revenue,” Doctoroff says. “So there will actually be a net cash flow. We’re using taxpayer revenue to generate taxpayer revenue. What we’ve tried to do is make the minimum public investment to get the maximum private-sector response.”

Ten years ago, a friend invited Doctoroff to the semifinal game of the World Cup between Italy and Bulgaria at Giants Stadium. It was a hot July afternoon, and Doctoroff, who had never been to a soccer game, had very low expectations. “I’d been to the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, the World Series, and only a month before I’d seen the Rangers win the Stanley Cup,” Doctoroff says. “But that soccer game turned out to be the most exciting event I’d ever seen.”

Predictably, the stands were filled with screaming fans, fueled not simply by the usual team allegiance but by national passion. “I was thinking the amazing thing about the New York area is, you could play that game with almost any two countries in the world and you’d generate the same excitement,” he says. “And I started wondering how it was that the world’s most international city had never hosted the Olympics, the world’s most international event.”

Doctoroff, then an investment banker, left the stadium with the vague notion that New York ought to stage the Olympics, and over the next year and a half, it became a personal obsession. He began, completely on his own, researching whether it was a good idea. He didn’t tell anyone except his wife what he was doing.

“I’m normally a very rational person,” he says. “I’d made my living making very rational decisions.” But this took on a life of its own. The more time he spent on it, the more enthralled he became. “It was an idea I thought was so logical and so powerful from so many different perspectives.”

The overarching concept for staging the Games in New York is called the Olympic X. Every venue is along one of two intersecting transportation axes. The north-south axis follows the waterfront from Staten Island all the way to the tip of northern Manhattan. The east-west axis follows the commuter-rail lines from the Meadowlands under the Hudson River to 33rd Street, and out to Flushing Meadows. The intersection of the X is where the Olympic village will be, which is on the Queens waterfront across from the U.N. From the Olympic Village, athletes would use ferries going north and south and dedicated trains to get to their events. It’s an elegant reimagining of New York’s relationship to its waterways.

Doctoroff met Michael Bloomberg four years ago when he put the touch on Bloomberg for his Olympic bid, and Doctoroff was hired as deputy mayor for economic development shortly after the election. The two Masters of the Universe immediately knew they were in sync on New York’s economic future.

“The thing I also came to understand,” Doctoroff says, “is the catalytic effect the Olympics can have. They occur on a deadline. Nothing else in government happens this way, and that’s why everything drags on so long.” Doctoroff says the impact of the Olympic effort can already be seen in the way the West Side project is progressing. In the next few weeks, the 6,000-page environmental-impact statement will be completed. “There’s no way that could’ve happened without the deadline. And our goal is to have the shovels in the ground on the stadium and the extension of the No. 7 train by the time the International Olympic Committee makes its decision next year in July.”

“There’s massive exposure for the city here and no legislative review,” says Ravitch. “People are worried, but no one wants to be accused of killing the Olympics.”

Now, Doctoroff believes, the main thing that stands in the way of beginning the stadium in the next year is litigation of some kind.

And yet, there is little likelihood at this point that the Olympics will come to New York. Among other things, the stadium may be more impediment than draw. The IOC doesn’t like controversy, and it’s currently looking for bid plans that are simpler and less expensive. So if you throw the Olympics out of the equation, why not just build the thing in Queens and be done with it?

The Jets have emphatically said they won’t go to Queens, but few people believe that. “If you were being offered four waterfront blocks in the middle of Manhattan, would you be talking about your backup plan?” asks Golub.

West Side residents argue that a Queens location for the stadium would enable the rail yards site to be used, as has been proposed by the Hell’s Kitchen–Hudson Yards Alliance, solely for an expansion of the convention center that could be covered with a park.

According to Doctoroff, Queens is not nearly as attractive as it seems. “You’ve got to remove everyone around Willets Point, and there are a few environmental issues as well,” he says. “To remediate that site would cost around $230 million. Then, you’d have to drive piles into the marshland to support the structure, and this would cost over $100 million.”

the one issue on which almost everyone is in agreement is the need to expand the Javits Center, which is too small, and doesn’t have enough meeting rooms or space where several thousand people can sit down and listen to a speaker, watch a film, or view a presentation. The stadium would add all of these options to the convention center plus an additional 200,000 square feet of floor space. Charles Gargano, the state’s economic czar, says this means the Javits Center would be able to book at least 38 additional shows a year, which translates into a minimum of 120 days of activity.

“The goal for the state is now and has always been to expand the Javits Center,” says Gargano. “We told the city we will not spend taxpayer money to build a stadium, but we would help with the infrastructure. And that’s what we’re doing. Is this the best project for that space? I haven’t seen anything better. The city gets its stadium for the Olympics, we get the Javits expansion, and $800 million in private investment is pretty hard to pass up.”

Jay Cross, president of the Jets—suddenly a convention-business expert—says there is a need in the marketplace for a facility to handle 200,000-square-foot shows, which are the bread and butter of the industry. “We’ve talked to the biggest people in the business—Reed Exhibitions, G. Little, VNU, and the Jewelry Show—and they can’t wait to do business with us,” he says.


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