Oklahoma City is not the only place that’s won for losing. New York City was one of five finalists to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, which ultimately went to London. But New York benefited enormously from that disappointment. To prepare the city for the Olympics, local government proposed several major civic improvements that went forward anyway, including the redevelopment of the Far West Side of Manhattan. This required changes such as rezoning the area for high-rise development and the construction of an extension of the No. 7 train.
Dan Doctoroff, who spearheaded New York’s Olympics bid and served as deputy mayor under Michael Bloomberg, wrote in his book, Greater Than Ever, “I don’t think the Hudson yards rezoning, the subway extension, and all the other investment would have happened if the Olympics catalyst and its strict timetable … hadn’t existed.” Doctoroff’s team also focused attention on the East River waterfront, which helped catalyze development in Long Island City. Yes, Long Island City, where Amazon is now locating its New York HQ2. So, in a sense, there’s a connection between New York losing the 2012 Olympics and winning the HQ2 competition.
The pressures of an Olympics bid created the conditions under which farsighted leaders could create and push through changes faster than would have otherwise been possible. And guess what? There’s already evidence that the just-concluded HQ2 competition had the same effect.
The process helped local leaders in Indianapolis, one of Amazon’s 20 finalist cities, accelerate changes in their approach to economic development. Michael Huber, the CEO of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, told me that “Amazon’s process forced us to throw out the traditional rule book for attracting business investment and talent—traditionally a cost- and incentive-focused process. Their process forced us to think more creatively about human capital and the workforce of the future. We used the Amazon process to add a sense of urgency to the new tools and partnerships (workforce/talent, land use, transit) we are developing as a region.”
Other Amazon finalists took a similar approach. Chicago pushed forward development on several of its megaprojects. Curt Bailey, the president of the developer Related Midwest, told Crain’s Chicago Business, “We had to think more clearly and more quickly about what to do with our sites. There was a great exercise involved in that.” In Denver, J. J. Ament, the CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, said a year ago, “Whether Amazon chooses Colorado or not, this process has been helpful to our community.” Whatever you might think of Amazon, it’s hard to deny that savvy civic leaders leveraged the process to their advantage.
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