Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Astrodome and the 2016 Olympics

Below is an interesting Otis White post from his Urban Notebook blog at Governing magazine (still no permalinks) on the bidding for the 2016 Olympics now that London won 2012 (called it ;-). It includes the same skepticism on costs and benefits that I've expressed here before. I am curious though if the track and field stadium requirement, which he says is larger than even football stadiums, could be satisfied within the confines of the dual-field Astrodome, or if it would require a new stadium in Houston (unlikely - although may be possible at UH or with the MLS Dynamo franchise?).

Speaking of the Astrodome, I've had this little tidbit I've been meaning to pass along for a while. The May-June issue of The Futurist magazine has an interesting article titled "The World's Top Super Projects - The Best of the Big," (no link - pay archives only) with this entry in their list:
Houston's Astrodome: World's Top New Urban Infrastructure Form

Domed structures have rapidly become a dominant feature in today's urban environments. Houston's Astrodome has been ranked as the "top new urban form" in recent decades.

The pioneering Astrodome, built in the 1960s, provided proof of the practicality of an indoor stadium. It was followed in 1975 by the Superdome in New Orleans and the Silver Dome in Pontiac, Michigan. These venturesome projects launched a wave of dome construction at such U.S. cities as Syracuse, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, St. Petersburg, and Atlanta. It is becoming clear now that any city that wants to be a part of a top sports league had better start building.

Dome construction technology is also spreading beyond the sports field. Domes are planned for super shopping malls and activity centers. Futurists predict new domes will cover entire communities.
It is a great and historically important building, and I hope it gets a purposeful reuse someday (my thoughts here).

Moving on to Otis on the Olympics. You can read the Chronicle article on our bid here.

Warning: Hurdles Ahead
Why Cities Want the Olympics

You'd think, given New York's recent, painful experience, that the last thing any city would want to do is put itself through the marathon effort and expense of bidding for the Summer Olympic Games. But, of course, you'd be wrong. Cities are already gathering at the 2016 starting line.

Recap: So what happened to New York? Mayor Michael Bloomberg poured his heart and soul into winning the 2012 Games. He and his friends lined up corporate and political support, mapped venues, created jazzy presentations, wooed the International Olympics pooh-bahs and spent money lavishly. (In all, New York raised and spent $50 million on its Olympics bid.) New York took the high hurdles easily - winning the endorsement of the U.S. Olympic Committee and making it through the winnowing process, where the IOC reduces the international field to a handful of places - only to stumble on the eve of the IOC vote, which eventually went to London.

The stumble: New York's bid hinged on its plan for building a $2 billion stadium in Manhattan for the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field events. (The stadium would have been converted afterward to a stadium for the football Jets and an annex to the city's convention center.) But one obscure state politician vetoed the plan at the last minute, miffed that Mayor Bloomberg had taken his support for granted. By the time the IOC voted last summer, New York's bid was dead, its $50 million investment as worthless as Enron stock.

Lesson One: An Olympic bid is one vain politician away from disaster. Lesson Two: The likeliest place for the bid to come undone is over the showcase stadium. Even with brand new football and baseball stadiums, most cities don't have a facility big enough for Olympic-size track and field events, so they have to build one. And as everyone knows, the politics of building sports stadiums, especially in prominent locations, is as tough as any in big cities today. (The last U.S. city to host an Olympics, Atlanta in 1996, solved the problem by building its Olympic stadium next door to its aging baseball park. After the Olympics, it converted the giant facility into a new baseball park for the Braves, renamed it Turner Field, and tore down the old stadium.)

So who's crazy enough to go through this misery? Quite a few places, it seems: Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco are among those showing a serious interest. Why? Because, for all the expense and grief, the Olympics is seen as the ultimate urban showcase. As Mayor Richard Daley put it at a press conference announcing Chicago's effort, "The Olympics would provide a platform to show off our city to literally billions of people. There would be strong benefits for tourism and economic development as well as housing and other capital investments."

There's a side benefit. Like other high-stakes urban endeavors (think of a Super Bowl or national political convention), an Olympics creates a deadline that helps cities push through improvements that might have taken decades otherwise, if they were undertaken at all. In addition to building its stadium, Atlanta created a major downtown park, spruced up streets and developed a handful of other venues.

But not everybody is convinced that the effort is worth the expense. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford was quick to rain on his city's parade. He didn't think the city could create the political support and enthusiasm to make a serious bid. His advice to Philly's business and civic leaders: "Run away. As fast as our community-spirited legs can carry you. Get us out before another dollar is wasted."


At 10:51 PM, June 06, 2006, Blogger Max Concrete said...

In terms of the Astrodome, it is interesting to note that the first imitator (the Superdome) didn't appear until 10 years later. So the Astrodome was 10 years ahead of its time, so to speak.

As for the Olympics, my suspicion is that there's a lot of payola involved. If the bid costs tens of millions to prepare, there are a lot of recipients on the receiving end of the money. You'd expect this from the Brown administration, but I would expect better from the White administration. I agree with Tory, there is no way Houston can win the US competition, so the international competition (also a sure loss) is really irrelevant. The whole thing is just revenue for certain interests, and a bill for the rest of us.

At 12:08 AM, June 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really? You need to alert NBC and USA Today. They think that the 2004 Olympics set a viewership record. They clearly do not have the benefit of your expert ratings analysis.



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