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Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Day New York’s Dream Died

By Mike Moran
Senior Media Consultant
The Colorado Springs Sports Corporation

It was five years ago today, July 6, 2005, but it seems like twenty……….. more than 4,000 people had jammed into a mini-stadium at Rockefeller Center in New York City early on a muggy morning before 7:00 to watch on a pair of giant screens as the International Olympic Committee selected the city that would host the 2012 Olympic Games……….. on the night before, our small stadium setting was electric, with thousands of spectators, music, Olympic athletes, food, and the NBC-televised presentations from Singapore by the finalist cities- London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid and New York……….. it ended after midnight, and as the seats emptied and Rockefeller Center quieted, I sat on the lip of the stage, drinking in the sights and sounds of the majestic city…….. it was clear that it was never going to be any bigger or better, and if New York was eliminated the next morning, life commonplace to me and a long career in the Olympic movement would hit a wall, but, if the city won, it would be the start of a seven-year magic carpet ride…….. after retirement from the USOC at the end of 2002, my next opportunity came when NYC2012, the group leading the city’s bid, selected me as its Senior Communications Counselor, one of five senior advisors to the leadership of the bid, headed by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Executive Director Jay Kriegel, along with my former USOC boss, Harvey Schiller……….. over the next thirty months, it was inspiring to be part of a tremendous endeavor that involved thousands of passionate New Yorkers bent on bringing the Games to the greatest city in the world………we knew from the start that it was going to be a battle for the Big Apple because of factors that were inescapable………Salt Lake had just hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 2002, a jolting Olympic bid scandal in 1998 centered around the leadership of the Games in Utah, there was anti-American bias to deal with in the world, and most of all, a contentious issue centering around the proposed $2.2 billion tab for a new West Side stadium, expansion of the Javits Convention center, and the overall development of that part of the city, a hot-button for the citizens and politicians for years……….. the majority, 79 percent of New Yorkers, supported the bid, but not the new stadium………. the owners of Madison Square Garden not only opposed the new stadium and development around it, but spent thousands of dollars in advertising to try to kill it………and the powerful New York Times opposed it editorially…………yet there were so many marvelous people involved, including 1,700 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the USA and 45 nations around the world in the NYC2012 Circle of Olympians and Paralympians………. Muhammad Ali, Bob Beamon, Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, Michael Phelps, Jeff Blatnick, Mia Hamm, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Bruce Jenner, Magic Johnson and hundreds of others…….. the inspiring “Nations of New York, ” thousands of men and women from 400 organizations representing the city’s rich, diverse international population and neighborhoods, and a superb venue plan that embraced the city’s historic sports landmarks as proposed Olympic sites—Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, National Tennis Center, Giants Stadium, the historic 369th Regiment Arena in Harlem, Central Park, along with many new or refurbished sites in what was called the “Olympic X” configuration, plus a gorgeous, proposed Olympic Village for the athletes on the East River in Queens West………. but there were challenges besides the West Side Stadium issue, including a period of turmoil and dysfunction within the United States Olympic Committee that led to the departure of CEO Lloyd Ward in 2003 and the naming of interim President Bill Martin as the organization steered its way out of the mess………. New York had been selected by the USOC on November 2, 2002, defeating San Francisco by a vote of 132-91 among its Board of Directors at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs………the search for a candidate city began in 1999 under the leadership of USOC President Bill Hybl, and the original roster of cities competing for the nod included New York, Houston, Washington, Dallas, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Tampa…………. Doctoroff, a charismatic leader who first conceived the idea of a New York Olympic Games while watching a Soccer World Cup match in 1994 at Giants Stadium, blew away the field with his dogged pursuit of USOC officials, along with sidekick Kriegel, and once they had secured the right to become America’s candidate city, there was no looking back or hesitation………it was a costly bid, some $3.1 billion for the Games’ budget, a guarantee to the IOC of some $250 million, and $924 million alone in capital costs for improvements…….. in fact, the five finalist cities spent a reported $150 million on their bids, $35 million alone by NYC2012…………on May 18, 2004, at Bryant Park in Manhattan, the announcement was made that New York would be a finalist in the chase for the Games, and all of us who were part of the effort were thrilled.

Joy! May 18, 2004, Bryant Park, New York City as the Big Apple was named a 2012 Olympic Finalist by the IOC. The event included Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Olympian Donna De Varona to my left, along with Olympic and Paralympic athletes and more than 4,000 cheering New Yorkers

The next 14 months became a whirlwind of effort and energy on the part of the bid leadership, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the scores of young, talented men and women on the NYC2012 staff……. there was no time for sleep, deadlines were everywhere, visitors to welcome every week……. my favorite junket was to take journalists and broadcasters from international outlets on a carefully-crafted ferry tour on the water that wound around Manhattan, showing them the spectacular views and venues of the city, passing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, with a presentation now ingrained and the confidence of a tour guide………. so, too for treks to the top of an office building that looked down on the rail yards on the West Side adjacent to what would be the site of the new Olympic Stadium and the future home of the Jets……… in 2004, a series of conversations with new USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth, the genius who made the 1984 Games in Los Angeles a smash success, convinced him to come to New York and tell the city’s tough media why he thought New York could win………he spoke at a lunch at the posh ‘21’ Club and he was compelling….. the next morning, the New York Times carried a column by the estimable George Vecsey, who was not in favor of the bid, that was extremely fair and positive, and the piece was accompanied by a picture of Doctoroff watching Ueberroth speak, next to a big NYC2012 sign on an easel that had been strategically placed for optimum photo benefit……. the next day, at an NYC2012 Board meeting, Doctoroff held up a copy of the Times’ piece and he was glowing, and surprised……………later, invitations were accepted by some 35 Olympic beat journalists and broadcasters from across the country who came to New York and our offices, where they got the full presentation from Doctoroff and the staff, with positive followup and exposure for the bid…… a dinner that evening at The Palm for the writers was a big success, and my memory reminds me that the lobsters were very special that night.. …….. everything seemed to be rocking. The IOC Evaluation Commission made its visit to New York in February, 2005, and the city responded as only New York could……..a full-scale advertising blitz met the IOC commission, Olympic signs were posted on 13,000 taxis, 7,000 busses and 4,000 subway cars………storefronts at Times Square and Grand Central Terminal had 2012 Olympic window displays……. so did windows at Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, and as the IOC leaders toured the 27 venue sites by bus, thousands of New Yorkers greeted them along the routes……on board with a busload of media tagging along, it was awesome to witness this response, even with some if it staged………but on June 6, just a month before the IOC’s decision in Singapore, two powerful politicians on the state’s Public Authorities Control Board, Joseph L. Bruno and Sheldon Silver, jettisoned their support of the West Side Stadium project, driving a dagger into the heart of the bid…….. NYC2012 quickly trotted out a backup plan that included a new stadium for the baseball Mets in Queens that would be the Olympic Stadium, but the message made its way to the IOC Members who would vote, and it was not a good one…….. so on that humid July 6 morning in Rockefeller Center, we watched as Moscow was eliminated in the first round of voting………moments later, IOC President Jacques Rogge appeared after the second vote on the big screen to announce that “New York will not move forward. ” The seats and stands at our venue emptied in seconds, and a car with the Governor of New York parked nearby sped away in traffic………I remained to face the scores of cameras, television lights and journalists with their notebooks and recorders in an attempt to explain what happened, the only senior bid executive not in Singapore that morning………for the next twelve hours, telling the story and the disappointment of those who had worked so hard for this day, I went by car to radio shows, TV shows and to the offices of newspapers, ending at midnight in Times Square with a live piece on ESPN from its signature “ESPN Zone. ” London had upset favored Paris, 54-50, to win the Games, and the next morning, 52 people died in the horrendous London train bombings………returning to my bedroom that night, there was a message from Singapore that Doctoroff would host a party for the staff at his home on Monday after the leaders returned from Singapore……….. but on Sunday, after packing up my clothing and personal things, and making one last visit to our offices at One Liberty Plaza, just above the site of Ground Zero of September 11, 2001, to grab my nameplate and some stationery, I took a taxi to LaGuardia Airport and left…….. returning to Colorado Springs and a depressing, empty home, waking the next morning without a job for the first time in my life and without a plan for what would come next.

Postscript—- A few weeks ago, in New York with my friend Ford McClave, walking in Times Square before heading to see the hit new musical, “American Idiot” at the St. James Theatre on 44th Street, we decided to stop at the Swatch store and see some of its displays……. I heard somebody say, “Hi, Mike, ” and turned around to see Nadia Comaneci and husband and Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner………they, too were going to see a show on Broadway, and we stood for a few moments and made small talk about their son, Dylan, how much time had passed since they were on the podium at the Games, and the events staged at Times Square for NYC2012 and the dream shared of a New York Olympic Games. When we parted and walked outside to the familiar din and crowds, I think we shared a common thought. “What if? ”

None of us will ever know

But the dream remains, click on the video link below to “Imagine” for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=pIdYMDm7QH8

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