By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio has rejected the possibility of bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to western Queens.
At a Queens Village news conference last Friday, the mayor made it clear that New York City does not need the Olympics and there are greater priorities facing his administration.
“I think everyone’s noticed that we are running a very vigorous agenda here,” de Blasio said. “Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of people in a lot of cities that took on these very big obligations, and gotten a sense of how it can pull away from a lot of the other things you’re trying to do.”
Last month the mayor said he would consider bidding for the Summer Games after Dan Doctoroff approached Gov. Andrew Cuomo with an elaborate plan to transform the Sunnyside Rail Yards into a site for the Olympics.
A former deputy mayor in the Bloomberg administration, Doctoroff was the brains behind the effort to bring the 2012 games to New York, which went to London instead.
The Doctoroff plan, as detailed in The Financial Times May 13, would build an enormous deck over the 167 acres of the Sunnyside Rail Yard that would support an Olympic stadium and tens of thousands of housing units.
Doctoroff, now the chief executive at Bloomberg LP, said through a representative that he would have have no comment at this time.
But the mayor changed course and expounded on why he put the brakes on the discussions, citing cost overruns and unintended consequences.
“New York City by definition is an incredibly sophisticated place,” he said. “I know if we take on anything we’ll get the job done, but I think parts of the world that are most desirous of having the Olympics are those that are either trying to brand themselves and get known or — how do I say this gently? — rebrand themselves. Not that President Putin needed to rebrand himself, for example.”
Putin is the head of Russia, which just hosted the Winter Olympics.
The current state of the city’s tourism industry, which drew 54 million visitors last year and $39 billion in direct spending, led the mayor to conclude that the city simply doesn’t need the games.
“You know, we feel great about New York City’s reputation in the world right now,” de Blasio said. “The tourism numbers are at an all-time high and climbing. We’re going to have full capacity without the Olympics. So it’s really about keeping it simple, staying on our plan and doing the things we know will not encumber the taxpayer in the process.
The mayor’s decision was supported by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria).
“The use of the rail yard was a creative idea, but it was a question of resources,” he said. “It costs a lot of money to develop a space like that.”
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) feared the project would inundate the neighborhoods in his district.
“Plus the cost of decking is astronomical and that money can be used for affordable housing and schools,” he said.
Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 1, which covers the neighborhoods surrounding the rail yard was a supporter of the Doctoroff plan.
“I think it’s sad that it was rejected so early. Doctoroff’s plans for the 2012 Olympics benefitted Long Island City greatly. You wouldn’t have Hunters Point South without that planning,” he said.
Tony O’Sullivan, a retired Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus driver and resident of Sunnyside Towers along the southern end of the yards, said, “Nobody loves the Olympics more than me, but I can’t see how they could possibly do that kind of colossal construction here. Construction of the East Side Access project has been disruptive enough.”
At Jack’s Sunnyside Ale House, a sports bar at 39-46 Skillman Ave. owned by the three McGowan brothers, each an FDNY veteran, Jim McGowan shook his head at the news.
“Something like that would have been a dream come true with a decade of building and then a Summer Olympics just one block away,” he said. “It would have been a life-changing event for everyone involved.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.