Commentary: Not So Fast, Mr. Mayor

Is a new stadium critical to New York's Olympics bid?

When representatives of the International Olympic Committee visit New York City on Feb. 21 to evaluate its bid for the 2012 summer games, they'll get the red-carpet treatment, a guided tour, and glimpses of a new citywide ad campaign. What they won't see is the centerpiece of the bid: a $1.4 billion arena to be built over a rusty rail yard on the Hudson River. The proposed New York Sports & Convention Center -- the most expensive stadium ever -- would house the New York Jets football team.

Politicians and community activists opposed to the stadium call it a gift to the Jets. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Daniel L. Doctoroff -- a former investment banker and the driving force behind New York's 2012 bid -- call it crucial to landing the Olympics. They warn that if the stadium isn't approved before the IOC decides among finalists London, Madrid, Moscow, New York, and Paris on July 6, then the Big Apple's chances are sunk. Says Doctoroff: "[The IOC] wants to know that we're going to be able to deliver."

But are Bloomberg and Doctoroff simply using that threat to get the stadium approved in a hurry -- and then, if New York doesn't win the Olympics, well, they still have the stadium? A spokesperson for the IOC who doesn't wish to be named says that "it's the quality and totality of the bid" that counts, not any specific venue. In fact, Paris -- which many consider the favorite -- features a 20-year-old stadium as the core of its proposal.

The project is already beset by two lawsuits, and media behemoth Cablevision Systems Corp. (CVC ), which owns nearby Madison Square Garden, is maneuvering to kill the deal. Even if the stadium wins approval, some critics say it's actually a detriment to New York's bid. Why? In short, the arena adds too much complexity, cost, and controversy, argues Brian Hatch, former deputy mayor of Salt Lake City, the last U.S. city to host the Olympics. Doctoroff says the city has investigated every other site and that "we have no alternative."

The New York plan has undeniable merits. The proposed stadium is a stunner, and Doctoroff's advance planning might come as a relief to the IOC, which nervously watched paint dry as the Athens Games began last summer.

That's why Ed Hula, editor of Olym- pics newsletter, pegs New York as a close second to Paris. Still, "it seems like a risky choice to hang the bid on the stadium," Hula says. "It's not traditional for a city to throw down a gauntlet like this." But, hey, chutzpah is what New York is all about.

By Brian Hindo with Jack Ewing in Frankfurt

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.