New York's bid for the 2012 Olympics suffered a possibly fatal blow late yesterday when funding for a proposed $2 billion stadium failed to win approval from a state board.
The vote came just hours after New York received a less favorable review than Paris and London but generally positive remarks in an International Olympic Committee evaluation of the five cities bidding for the Games, suggesting it would be an underdog but legitimate contender when the IOC awards the Games by secret ballot July 6 in Singapore.
International, U.S. and New York Olympic leaders have stated repeatedly that New York could not win the Olympics without having financing in place for the stadium, which would be the site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and track and field events and also serve as the home stadium for the New York Jets. But the proposed facility has been the subject of considerable controversy in New York.
"We don't have another option," New York bid founder Dan Doctoroff said during a conference call before the vote by New York's Public Authorities Control Board. "We never really had another option."
The three-member board rejected a proposal for $300 million in state funding and zoning privileges for the stadium over rail yards near the Hudson River on New York's West Side. A unanimous vote was required.
"The IOC report issued this morning continued the bid's strong momentum and put New York in a great position to win in Singapore in July," Doctoroff said in a statement. "But in one confusing stroke late this afternoon, the PACB has apparently sought to disrupt all of this extraordinary effort."
It is unclear whether New York's bid leaders will try to push for another vote, cobble together an alternative stadium plan, forge ahead and hope for an improbable victory in Singapore or simply drop out of the race. In any case, New York's struggles to win approval for the centerpiece of its bid have been an embarrassment for the U.S. Olympic Committee, which considers holding frequent Olympic Games in the United States crucial to its funding efforts.
The USOC selected New York as the U.S. bid city over San Francisco, Washington and Houston three years ago.
"We are in the process of fact-finding and gathering additional information," USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said in a statement. "We look forward to having an opportunity to speak with our colleagues at NYC 2012 and learn more about their plans moving forward."
Spokesmen for the IOC, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Gov. George Pataki, a vocal supporter of the Olympic bid who controls one of the three PACB votes, supplied the only vote in favor. The two other board members, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, abstained.
The vote came not long after Silver said during a televised news conference that he did not support the proposal, saying it would detract from the redevelopment of the Lower Manhattan district he represents.
"The Speaker's opposition today is inexplicable and terribly damaging to New York's and America's Olympic bid," New York 2012 Executive Director Jay Kriegel said in a statement.
Silver and Bruno have long expressed reservations about the stadium, which proponents say would spur redevelopment of a decaying area and opponents say is a poor use of public money.
In its 100-plus page report, the IOC's evaluation commission pointed to the uncertainty surrounding the stadium as a weakness of New York's bid. Though the commission did not rank or grade the cities, it provided the most glowing commentary about Paris's bid, with London appearing a close second, followed by Madrid and New York, and then Moscow -- the only city that received what amounted to heavy criticism from the 12-member group of IOC members and Olympic outsiders.
Besides saying New York bid officials had provided "no guarantees" that the Olympic stadium and nearby international broadcasting center would be constructed, the evaluation commission also noted that New York could have difficulty in obtaining the land for the planned Olympic Village on time.
The report cited the results of an IOC-commissioned December public opinion poll that showed New York lagging significantly behind the other cities in local support for the Games (only 59 percent of New Yorkers said they supported an Olympics in New York; the Paris bid, by comparison, received the support of 85 percent of Parisians).
New York's bid otherwise received generally favorable remarks, a fact that Doctoroff seized upon during a teleconference with reporters.
"We could not be more pleased with the report issued this morning," he said. "In virtually every category New York has received very, very positive marks . . . the one obvious hurdle we still have to overcome being the Olympic stadium."
Since IOC members are banned from visiting the bidding cities and rely on technical information from the evaluation commission to shape their views, the report is considered important. However, other, non-technical factors are often decisive in Olympic elections. When the IOC awarded Beijing the 2008 Summer Games two years ago, some IOC members said they cast their votes for Beijing for political and emotional reasons even though Toronto had a technically superior bid.
Despite its underdog status, New York had hoped to have all the basic technical elements in place, allowing it to try to win the Olympics on the basis of its appeal as a truly international city that could make athletes from every nation feel at home while leaving an extraordinary legacy of structural and aesthetic improvements.