Nineteen presentations in two and a half days, followed by 21 site inspections in 36 hours, outdoors, in the middle of winter. Any planner willing to endure that would have to be crazy—or part of the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission, whose members did precisely that a few months ago when they came to the Big Apple to assess the city's bid for the 2012 Summer Games.
The commission's four-day visit last February was much less about showcasing the city and its personalities than it was about "a very long series of technical meetings," explains Andrew Winters, director of planning and design for NYC2012, the not-for-profit organization in charge of New York's Olympic bid. The meetings? Basically elaborations on NYC2012's 600-page bid book, divided into chapters on accommodations, transportation, the Olympic Village, and the like.
"We had to give a formal presentation on each chapter, plus take questions and discuss," explains Winters. He kept things lively by having "interesting personalities" as presenters—Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki for the opening remarks, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on security, and so on. He also paid a production company to create presentations using bold graphics, PowerPoint, and film, so IOC members wouldn't get bored. Afterwards, the visitors spent a mad day and a half dashing from site to Olympic site (where heated tents kept the chill at bay) and testing out the public transportation system, from ferries to subways to buses.
We Can Kick Your City's . . .
It wasn't all work and no play. As reward for their labor, the 13 committee members got to stay at the Plaza Hotel, plus they capped off their visit with a dinner party at Mayor Bloomberg's East Side townhouse, where they enjoyed an all-American menu (turkey, cranberry sauce, Statue of Liberty cookies) while Whoopi Goldberg cracked jokes, Paul Simon sang "Mrs. Robinson," and guests schmoozed with the likes of Henry Kissinger, Matt Damon, Vera Wang, Barbara Walters, and Meryl Streep.
Etiquette was an issue. NYC2012's protocol department briefed luminaries so they didn't commit faux pas like offering the commission chair a glass of wine: "She's an observant Muslim," explains Winters. "It'd be like offering bacon to an Orthodox Jew." And contrary to New York attitude, for Olympians putting down the competition is verboten. "Our fear was that some high-profile person would tell an IOC member, 'You should bring the Games to New York, because London sucks!' " shudders Winters. That didn't happen (as far as he knows).
Good Sports Commission members typically eat, sleep, and breathe Olympics, but Winters' team decided to do something offbeat: a tour of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's controversial "Gates" exhibit—which draped Central Park in orange cloth—given by the artists themselves.
The talk started off on the wrong foot when the couple climbed on the tour bus—and declared their hatred of sports. But they redeemed themselves by proclaiming their love of New York and the Olympics. The couple was "very charismatic," says Winters. "The committee loved them. Jean-Claude and Christo talked for 20 minutes and they didn't want them to stop!"