CDS Community Development Strategies
Besting a bid from rival Dallas/Fort Worth in the semi-final round of selections in October 2001, Houston was one of the final four sites chosen by the US Olympic Committee for the 2012 games, along with New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C./Baltimore. In August 2002, New York and San Francisco were chosen as a final two, with New York going on to represent the United States in the final bidding to the International Olympic Committee. In 2005, The IOC would ultimately select London to host the 2012 Olympics. An attempt to bid for the 2016 Games was made as well, but failed to make it beyond the very early stages of consideration. Despite its failure, there was merit to Houston’s 2012 Olympic bid, especially when considering the current financial concerns of former and potential future host cities.
While this cost-effective approach seems almost stereotypically Houston, the planned layout of the venues was very much not. In a city known for its sprawl, Houston’s Olympic bid boasted the most compact footprint of any of the proposed US sites. The proposal called for nearly all events to take place in one of three locations, the NRG Park/Astrodome complex, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University campuses, and Downtown Houston, with all three sites connected by a triangle of high-capacity light rail lines. Two of these rail lines do indeed exists today, connecting Downtown with NRG Park and the universities.
As it turned out, practicality was not the largest factor in Olympic host city choice at the time. Even so, the bid received praise at the time from USOC officials for its compact and cost-effective plan. Even a gloating column from the San Francisco Chronicle, written after Houston failed to make the USOC’s cut from four to two, admitted that “according to those involved in the Olympic hosting competition, it had the most technically and financially sound bid among the municipal hopefuls.”
With today’s concerns about the cost of hosting the Olympics and the sustainability of Olympic venues, it seems inevitable that future Olympic host cities will need to take a more practical and cost-effective approach to hosting the Games. Houston’s 2012 bid offers some good ideas, if not a rough roadmap for hosting the Olympics in this manner. Perhaps it will leave a legacy beyond some lapel pins that spent time in outer space and a television commercial featuring a fencing match atop a METRO bus.
About the Author: Ty Jacobsen is a GIS and Market Analyst with CDS Community Development Strategies. He has worked on several public project economic impact studies and can name three of the five events that make up the modern pentathlon.