Rebuilding Downtown and Olympics 2012: Will Two Big Projects Be Too Much?By Erica Pearson
Roland Betts, the official at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation with perhaps the highest profile-he is the owner of Chelsea Piers and a college buddy of President George Bush - also had a huge hand in the city being selected as the U.S. bid for the 2012 Olympics. He is on the ten-member U.S. Olympic Committee task force that recently chose New York over San Francisco.
But Betts is not the only person who is involved both in rebuilding lower Manhattan and in the push to make New York Olympic City 2012. Some are worried that these two big projects will compete for attention, time and money from developers, city officials, and planners, and that rebuilding efforts may come up short. Can the city really handle two such large public works projects at once?
Time and Money
City officials and Olympics backers have repeatedly claimed that these projects will not siphon funds from downtown. "They don't compete against each other," said Laz Benitez, a spokesperson for NYC2012, the Olympics bid organization. "Our plan is based on private moneys." Much of the money would come from merchandising and licensing, TV rights and ticket sales, said Benitez. Olympics financing will not draw from the city's budget or federal funds for rebuilding.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that plans to develop the city's West Side--including building a new stadium and extending the No. 7 subway line--will go ahead regardless of which city is chosen for 2012. This means that some construction is scheduled to begin before the city even knows whether or not it will indeed host the games, and work on transportation in lower Manhattan may coincide with extending the No. 7 train.
What the Olympics Will Do
"It's completely consistent with the direction in which the city should proceed, on the scale of Robert Moses," Donald Elliott, a city-planning-commission chairman under Mayor John Lindsay, has said. And Bloomberg said the city hopes "to use the Olympics to build for the decades to follow the closing ceremonies."
Some question, though, whether New York can handle the crush of financing and building all these projects between now and the games' opening ceremonies.
Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff has said that transportation improvements in lower Manhattan are likely to be finished far ahead of the No. 7's estimated completion in 2010. But the extension of the 7 train is slated to begin in late 2004 or early 2005, so that construction will be underway before the International Olympic Committee meets in July 2005 to determine which city will host the 2012 games.
Doctoroff and others say that Olympic plans will help keep lower Manhattan rebuilding projects on schedule. "The Olympics actually act as a catalyst for development, it sets a deadline," said Benitez, from NYC2012.
Five board members of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation--including New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso and Verizon president Paul Crotty -- also sit on the board of the Olympics bid.
Board member Roland Betts's involvement goes even further. He is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee task force that decided to give New York, not San Francisco, the nomination for 2012.
Critics suggested that Betts should step down from the 10-person panel, saying that he would benefit if the Olympics are held in New York and even suggesting that he had a grudge against San Francisco. Last year, San Francisco officials rejected Betts' bid to build a Chelsea-Piers-like sports center in the Bay Area. While the New York Olympic bid doesn't make Chelsea Piers a location for sports events, some suggest that the piers are just a few blocks south of the proposed Olympic stadium and would be sure to benefit from the new West Side development. Despite these claims, the U.S. Olympics ethics oversight committee decided that Betts could be impartial and should stay on the panel. "I have bent over backwards to be fair and objective," Betts told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The founder of the city's Olympic plan, Dan Doctoroff, stepped down to join the Bloomberg administration, and now oversees both rebuilding efforts and the city's Olympic bid as deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding. Top rebuilding official Alexander Garvin designed the Olympic plan, but is no longer officially involved.
Civic groups say that officials and planners should put rebuilding downtown before plans for a two-week event, even if it is one of the world's biggest. "We need the city to focus time on developing economic strategies for lower Manhattan and we really need Dan Doctoroff's full attention at the moment," said Beverly Willis, founder of Rebuild Downtown Our Town. "We desperately need a real push right now in lower Manhattan."
Ask Roland Betts about the Olympics plan and other questions about rebuilding lower Manhattan on Friday, November 22 between 1:30 and 2:30 PM in a live chat on Gotham Gazette.