What if, instead of Related's Hudson Yards development, the area atop the far West Side's rail yards was home to an 80,000-seat football stadium? If conjuring the mental image of such a massive spectacle in an already-dense area is too hard to do, then perhaps it's a good thing it didn't get built, because it could have. West Side Stadium, as it was known, was part of New York City's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. But more than that, it was one of the original cogs in the machine to transform the comparably desolate area of Manhattan's far West Side. The stadium was the brainchild of former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding Dan Doctoroff, and was what NY Mag called a "critical piece of his redevelopment strategy" for the area that's now being transformed into a new neighborhood of glassy office towers and rambling boulevards, devoid of such a stadium.
The idea for the West Side Stadium was not a new one when Doctoroff entered as deputy mayor alongside Bloomberg in November 2001. It had been discussed throughout the '90s, initially proposed as a home for the Yankees, but the idea regained traction amongst Bloomberg's agenda to rebuild lower Manhattan in a post-September 11 New York, which was disguised in part by the plan for an Olympic bid.
According to a report titled "How New York City Won the Olympics" by Mitchell Moss of NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, the mayor's office harnessed the Olympic bid timetable to push the review and approval process of the bid's various projects through so that, regardless of whether the city won the bid or not, the projects were already on their way to being built. A few of the proposals were seen through and are major fixtures in the city today.
As of 2015, the only football stadium that services New York Football is, ironically, in New Jersey, and there are no plans to change that. From conception to defeat, here's why the West Side Stadium failed.
The proposed stadium's location became fixed on the West Side rail yards when it was realized that it could be built using private financing. The Jets, who would call it home after the Olympics, agreed to build it and fess up $800 million, but requests from the city and state including a retractable roof that would allow the stadium to be used for other events, especially in conjunction with the flailing, neighboring Javits Center, had the city and state dedicating $300 million each.
Once financing for the project was secured, it faced intense opposition from neighbors, the theater industry, and major television company Cablevision, who owned the nearby Madison Square Garden that would directly compete with the venue. Cablevision launched a vicious campaign against the building, and the project's opponents questioned the feasibility and economic benefit of an astronomically expensive building that would only be used to serve its particular purpose several days out of the year. The fuel Cablevision added to the fire culminated in the state's three-member Public Authorities Control Boardyes, just three men in suits sealed the stadium's fatevoting against the center's proposal.
Scott Schiamberg was the lead architect and urban designer for New York City's Olympic bid, called NYC2012, when it had become the U.S. candidate city and entered the international field of competition. In an interview, he recalled the West Side Stadium proposal and various trains of thought that went into it. "We have two New York professional teams, but they play in New Jersey," he said. "Sometimes it can just be difficult to build things in the city that are at such a large scale."
The then-undeveloped far West Side was ripe for development, so the area just south of the Javits Center immediately jumped out as a prime location. Schiamberg also oversaw the design-tweaking process, and remembered the retractable roof, wind turbines, and solar panels, features that were more advanced and expensive a decade ago. (Another (vaguely humorous) design element: the "no-flow," or waterless, urinals in the bathroom, meant to conserve H20.)
The proposal also included a pier that jutted out into the Hudson that would have been used for warm-ups for track and field events during the Olympics, but would then have been turned over to the city as a park. It's not so far off from the Avatar-like park at Pier55, which is under review nowexcept it would have been bigger. Schiamberg said: "That's a fraction of the size of what this enormous pier would have been, that would have gotten turned into a park."
"It would have been nice to have the New York Jets play in New York," said Schiamberg, who now works at Perkins Eastman on sports-related projects. "It would have been nice to have the Olympics there."
In his view, the stadium proposal and New York's bid for the Olympics overall jump-started and accelerated the approval processes for many projects that are a part of the city today: Brooklyn Bridge Park; Hunters Point South; Barclays Center (to a certain extent); and expanded ferry service between the boroughs. "In the end," Schiamberg said, "New York City didn't win the Olympics, but the city got a lot of benefits."
When it comes to the area we know now as Hudson Yards, the extension of the 7 train, the Javits' Center's recent renovation, and the rezoning of a 42-block area around it to allow for more developmentSchiamberg said this is in large part because the bid helped speed up the pace. "This perhaps would have happened anyway," he said, "but it might have taken 50 years instead of 10 years."
New Yorkers, in some sense, have the never-realized West Side Stadium to thank for the vastly changed West Side that will become a reality over the next decade.