The Big Apple offering a 1st -- subway Olympics

The race for 2012: New York

August 21, 2002|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

The United States Olympic Committee will pick two finalists next week to be the U.S. candidate for the 2012 Summer Games. Today, The Sun examines New York's bid. Washington-Baltimore, San Francisco and Houston are also competing.

Jay Kriegel has solved the riddle that confounds everyone in the business of planning the Summer Olympics, and he didn't even think about it very hard.

The puzzle is this: Where does one put half a million people?

And Kriegel's answer is simple: New York City.

No need to mine the outer suburbs for hotel rooms - New York has 60,000 just in Manhattan, 49,000 of them in Midtown.

Forget the tangled network of shuttles and buses that a lesser metropolis requires. A few hundred thousand spectators on the New York subway would hardly be noticed.

"This city can just absorb it," said Kriegel, executive director of the group trying to bring the Summer Olympics to New York in 2012. "Our bid isn't contingent on airport expansion, or hotel construction, or roads, water and sewer - it's all here. This is New York. We are heavily blessed with infrastructure."

New York's cosmopolitan image is expected to play well in the selection process, but a nod in favor of America's largest population center would also be a vote for a setting the Games have rarely known.

Organizers call it "the first mass-transit Olympics." Athletes, officials and the media would be shuttled along the East River in high-speed ferries or from Long Island to New Jersey on a dedicated Olympic railroad. Spectators would wade into the city's swarm of yellow taxis or plunge underground to board the storied A Train and its many cousins.

New York has some of the most famous venues in American sports. Athletes would play tennis at Flushing Meadows, for instance, and baseball at Yankee Stadium. The boxing finals would be in Madison Square Garden, soccer at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

And city planners have scattered the remaining events in conspicuous, if somewhat curious, locations. Beach volleyball in Brooklyn, for instance. Rhythmic gymnastics in Harlem.

An equestrian center would be built on a former Staten Island landfill. A fountain in Queens, built for the 1964 World's Fair, would be transformed into an artificial river for whitewater canoeing. The triathlon would take place entirely within Central Park, including a 1.5 kilometer swim in a cleaned-up city reservoir.

All of the events would be held within 20 miles of the Olympic Village, a compactness hailed as the plan's crowning virtue.

Only three events would be held outside of the city's five boroughs - handball at the Nassau Coliseum in nearby Long Island and basketball and soccer across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

Most near subway

Nearly all the events would be within walking distance of a subway stop, and many would be on top of one.

But compact is one thing, and hopelessly congested is another. While the Summer Olympics have been held in big cities before - Seoul, South Korea, and Moscow, Mexico City and Tokyo, for instance - some observers question whether a megalopolis is the ideal location.

"Are the Yankees going to stop playing? Will the Giants cancel training camp? Is Broadway going to stop having shows?" asked Rick Burton, executive director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon's School of Business. "The president's motorcade creates gridlock in New York City. How can you hold the Olympics there for 17 days?"

Kriegel considered the thought recently in an interview by cellular phone, during which he hailed two cabs, rode at least one elevator, had blood drawn and then got seated at a restaurant for lunch.

"It's a good question," he said. "And I think the best answer we have is that this city was designed for something like this.

`Room for more'

"Look at the subway system. It handles 4 million riders a day, on average, and in the summer that drops off by about 400,000. There's room for more."

Still, the raw scale of New York's proposed Olympics breeds skepticism.

Like most potential hosts, New York is proposing an aggressive blueprint of new construction, including a 4,400-room Olympic Village in Queens and an 86,000-seat retractable-roof stadium on the west side of Manhattan.

Unlike other cities, however, New York is one of the priciest pieces of rock in the world, making its projects staggeringly expensive and complex.

The stadium would be built above a working rail yard and melded with an adjacent convention center, costing nearly $1 billion. A planned extension of the No. 7 subway line would cost $2 billion.

Complicated, expensive

But big, complicated and expensive are common themes in New York's commercial real estate market, and the construction needed for the Olympics would be a fraction of the projects likely to take shape over the next 20 years.

Supporters point to Columbus Circle, where a new AOL Time Warner Inc. headquarters is rising at a price of $1.7 billion - more than the cost of the entire Olympic Village.

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