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What Boston can learn from NYC’s failed Olympic bid

How that saga helps Boston secure its future, with or without the Games

You might have to sit down when you read this.

Dan Doctoroff spent the better part of a decade preparing New York's ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. He likes what he sees in Boston's proposal for the 2024 Games.

"Boston has a very good chance of winning," he tells me. "I feel very strongly about that."


I tell you this not as a way to get the naysayers and critics on board this fast-moving train, but because I needed to get your attention so you can start thinking about what an Olympic bid really means.

And it is this: an opportunity to figure out how Boston and the state can work better, not only for those of us who live here but also for the thousands of athletes and spectators who would show up at our doorstep.


Where we are now — newly minted as the US nominee to bid for the 2024 Olympics — is where New York was a decade ago. And even though our archrival lost to London, the Big Apple came up a big winner.

How so?

The mere act of putting together a full-blown bid got government and civic leaders to focus on the future of New York. What would have taken years to do — or perhaps never would have happened — got done. New neighborhoods, parks, stadiums, middle-class housing, and even the first subway extension in 50 years grew out of the city's failed Olympic bid. These don't sound like white elephants.

Even if we never see the Olympic flame burn brightly in our city, Boston now has a shot at creating that kind of legacy.

Critics will say we don't need to host the Games to build a better T or create more housing. Remind me — what's stopping us now?


Governments need due dates to get anything done, and nothing gets everyone to hop to it like the possibility of hosting an Olympics. Boston now has 2½ years to prepare its bid before the International Olympic Committee makes a decision in 2017.

"You cannot overstate the importance of a deadline in government," Doctoroff said. "The hosting of the Olympics is one of the very few things that occur on a deadline. You cannot miss it."

So this is what happened in New York: Doctoroff was like our John Fish, but instead of being the construction king of Boston, he was a private equity guy. Much like Fish, he corralled business leaders, including some guy from Medford named Michael Bloomberg, into organizing a bid for the Olympics.

The effort began in the mid-1990s, when Bloomberg was just a media mogul. After he got elected mayor of New York in 2001, he brought Doctoroff into his administration as a deputy mayor overseeing economic development — and to work on the city's Olympic dream. The move paid off because, in 2002, New York got the nod to represent the United States in the international competition for the 2012 Summer Games.

"We saw it as a catalyst to get things done," Doctoroff said. "When you shine an Olympic spotlight on a city, people in the city do things they otherwise wouldn't do."

He likens it to inviting people to your home — and how you want it to look its best. You clean up, bring out the good china, pop open the fine wine.


Doctoroff proposed a $3.3 billion privately funded Olympics with public money in the form of infrastructure upgrades that would have to be done anyway. Many of the venues would be built in underdeveloped, former industrial zones.

Sound familiar?

Yeah, looks like Boston is taking a page from New York.

Doctoroff said he's had a few conversations with Fish, and he considers Bain Capital managing director and Boston 2024 member Steve Pagliuca a friend. (The two have met a couple of times to discuss how to win the Games.)

The $50 million NYC2012 bid was funded by major corporations. While the IOC chose London for the XXX Olympiad, Doctoroff estimates that preparing New York's bid spurred the rezoning of 40 percent of the city.

If you think that's Doctoroff patting himself on the back, think again.

"The rezoning done for the Olympics has done more to transform New York than any other land development during the past half-century," said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning and policy at New York University, who released a 2011 report on how the city "won" with its rejected bid.

Michael Nagle/The New York Times

Many projects had long been talked about but never got far until the prospects of the Olympics came along. Look at what happened to two sites: the Olympic stadium on the far West Side and the Olympic village in Queens.

The opening and closing ceremonies were going to take place in a new football stadium built by the New York Jets on a former rail yard. The Jets never moved, but the rezoning of that area lured investment to create a new district known as Hudson Yards. When fully built out, Hudson Yards will be a live-work-play neighborhood served by a new subway extension.


Athletes were to be housed in an Olympic village on Hunters Point, an industrial area of Queens that sits across the river from the United Nations building. Today, Hunters Point is where thousands of affordable and middle-income housing units are being built.

After talking to Doctoroff, you wonder if he didn't mind that New York lost. No, it still stings.

"It would have been great to host the Olympics," said Doctoroff, who left the Bloomberg administration in 2008 to be chief executive of Bloomberg LP. He stepped down last month so that Michael Bloomberg could return to the company's helm.

Doctoroff believes Boston has a better shot than New York had because the United States Olympic Committee has improved its relationship with the IOC. Plus, a large percentage of the Games' revenue comes from US sponsors and television rights. And by 2024, the United States will be due its turn. The last Summer Olympics on our soil will have been more than a quarter-century ago in Atlanta.

To take home the gold, Doctoroff said city officials and the Boston 2024 team will have to work together seamlessly — and be out in the community talking about the proposal.


Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.