Politics

Olympic Village site for LA up in the air

The Union Pacific Intermodal rail yard is viewed with the Los Angeles skyline on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. The vast extension of land could be repurposed as the centerpiece of the proposed $1 billion residential village for the 2024 Olympic Games bid. But with a deadline to submit a U.S. candidate for the 2024 Games just 18 days away, the plan remains a mystery in many ways. The sprawling Olympic Village, to be built with mostly private funds, is tethered to a series of financial assumptions and question marks. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
The Union Pacific Intermodal rail yard is viewed with the Los Angeles skyline on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. The vast extension of land could be repurposed as the centerpiece of the proposed $1 billion residential village for the 2024 Olympic Games bid. But with a deadline to submit a U.S. candidate for the 2024 Games just 18 days away, the plan remains a mystery in many ways. The sprawling Olympic Village, to be built with mostly private funds, is tethered to a series of financial assumptions and question marks. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Richard Vogel/AP

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One of the keys to a successful Olympics is housing athletes near sporting facilities. But as Los Angeles prepares its bid to host the 2024 games, the city's proposed site for the Olympic Village is far from a sure thing.

The LA24 committee, which organized the city's bid, wants to redevelop a rail yard downtown. One major catch is the 125 acres it has in mind is owned by Union Pacific Railroad, and the company has told Mayor Eric Garcetti that it has no plans to relocate. 

 Jeff Millman, a spokesman for LA24, said the committee has other options.

"There’s a number of parcels near downtown Los Angeles that we have identified as potential sites for Olympic Village," said Millman. He declined to say where. 

But as the committee has pointed out in its pitch booklet, the Union Pacific site is ideal because of its size and its "convenient access to over 90 percent of the venues in less than 30 minutes."

Millman pointed out that if L.A. wins hosting duties, it will have years to figure out where to build the Olympic Village. And the proposal still has other hurdles to clear, such as getting the green light from the City Council. Members are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to authorize the U.S. Olympic Committee to designate L.A. as its host choice for the 2024 games.

But if L.A. is chosen, figuring out where to put Olympic Village will be critical and have ramifications for the future.  LA24 said the goal is to convert the athlete housing into market-rate and affordable homes for Angelenos after the games are over.

Olympian Cristina Teuscher, who had consulted on New York's failed bid to host the Olympics in 2012, said the L.A. rail yard's proximity to venues sounded promising. 

For an Olympic athlete, it’s all about location. Teuscher, who led the U.S. women’s swim team in 2000, explained that athletes care less about housing amenities and more about how much time they waste getting to a venue.

"It’s like ‘great village!’ But I’m in the middle of nowhere," Teuscher said. "I have to be there at 9 in the morning then I’m going to have to leave at 5 in the morning so I have time to warm up."

A deal between the city and Union Pacific is not dead. The Nebraska-based Union Pacific told Mayor Garcetti in an October 2014 letter that it would consider a future sale but needed certain conditions met, such as finding a new location comparable to the one it has now.

Jonathan Nettler, director of the Urban Land Institute in L.A., said there is nothing to indicate at this time that Union Pacific is 'posturing.'  In fact, the company has said it plans a 'modern modernization' of the site.

But, "does that mean that a check with the right number of zeros and identifying relocation site might change that?" Nettler posed. "It certainly might be feasible."

Nettler said that it could be hard for the rail yard to relocate, and questioned whether it even should.

"Freight rail is not just important to our economy locally," Nettler said. "It's also connected to our national network, and I think that's something to consider."