Members of the International Olympic Committee are wrapping up their four day visit evaluating New York's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. The committee found itself in the middle of the most polarizing issue in the city at the moment, a proposal to build an Olympic-size stadium on Manhattan's West Side.
The 13 IOC delegates spent four days touring venues around the five counties that make up New York City. They looked at venues for gymnastics and an aquatic center in Brooklyn, soccer and volleyball at a sports complex across the Hudson River in New Jersey and cycling, softball and equestrienne venues on Staten Island. They were hosted by officials eager to win the nod for the Games and entertained by New York performing artists.
Security and financing concerns also were on the agenda of the IOC committee. Security costs for last year's Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, soared past the one billion dollar mark. New York State Governor George Pataki says the delegates had a lot of questions about security.
"Will this be designated a national security event, and we are confident that it will, do the state and the city have the authority to go forward with the financial guarantees and other steps that have already been taken? And the answer to that is that we do and we will," he said.
President Bush sent a videotaped message to the delegates assuring them that the federal government would help defray security costs.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city has an edge over some competitors because he was able to tell the delegates that New York would be able to avoid costly labor cost overruns for new building projects for the Olympics. "They also talked about making sure that government, the private sector and unions worked together. We discussed the no-strike pledge, which is a unique document, ten-year pledge from the construction industries," he said.
The head of the U.S. Olympic Host Committee, Peter Ueberroth, says the New York effort impressed the committee. "New York is energized by this entire effort. It has come together, the people of New York," he said. "The commission as they evaluate this they can feel the citizenry. They can feel the acceptance. Totally unified."
But public opinion polls show that one-third of New Yorkers do not support the city's Olympic bid. And two-thirds oppose plans to build an Olympic stadium at an abandoned railroad yard in Manhattan. The Jets football team was planning to buy the site to build a stadium, which could be used in 2012 for Olympic events. But several other business groups have now offered more money for the site and increasingly active community groups say the stadium would create too much traffic.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that Mayor Bloomberg, who has spearheaded both the Olympic effort and the stadium, is up for re-election in November. His potential rivals have seized on the stadium proposal as a major way to unseat the mayor.
In his state of the city address, during the Olympic Committee's visit, City Council President Gifford Miller proposed to rezone the site for housing and said he will introduce legislation requiring the mayor to get approval for the 300-million dollars he wants the city to spend on the stadium.
"When stadiums become a more important priority than schools, then the mayor is making the wrong choice," he said. "The bottom line is that I have fought and I will keep on fighting against the stadium so that my children and your children will not end up paying for this terrible mistake. Because this stadium won't help our city."
During the visit, IOC delegates also met with a local Brooklyn group that opposes some of the venues proposed for Brooklyn, including plans to build a basketball arena.
New York is one of five finalists for the 2012 Games. The IOC evaluation team has already visited London and Madrid and will visit Moscow and Paris. The winning city will be announced July 6.