The Legacy of Boston 2024
August 5, 2015
August 5, 2015
The announcement that Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics was over was met with both jubilation and gloom. For months, the issue both captivated and divided the Bay State until the USOC pulled the plug citing a lack of public support.
Back when Boston was announced as the United States Olympic Committee’s choice to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, I compiled a list of questions marks I had surrounding the bid. As an opponent of the Olympics from the very start, I considered myself to be the epitome of the audience Boston 2024 was looking to win over. The bid may be history, but let’s take a look at how (or if) these issues were addressed over the six months of its existence to assess the effectiveness of Boston 2024’s public campaign.
Transparency in Planning
Since day one, transparency was a huge issue for Boston 2024. So much so that a subpoena was threatened to demand the release of the initial bid in full after months of requests. Cambridge City Councillor Nadeem Mazen, who helped to spearhead the cause, correctly stated that for “a group that seems to have a PR problem, and seems to want to correct that problem, it’s bizarre that they play this game of withholding key facets of the bid.”
Boston 2024 eventually acquiesced, releasing the full bid on a Friday afternoon. The original bid included a projected half-billion-dollar operating loss, an optimistic view of opposition and higher venue costs. Now, in fairness, all of the revelations could have been obsolete with the release of bid 2.0. That being said, the significant hesitation in coming out and explaining bid 1.0 in full did not assuage transparency concerns whatsoever.
Who’s Footing the Bill
For myself, and many residents whose comments I read during the bid’s existence, this was the big concern. Originally, Boston 2024 promised a privately funded games. As I noted back in January, I was very skeptical about this promise, given the IOC’s track record in this capacity (referenced here, here, here, here…you get the picture).
Originally, Boston 2024 claimed that infrastructure upgrades were previously funded through a 2014 transportation bond bill so no additional money would be required. This turned out to be false.
Boston 2024 also counted on $2.5 million from businesses that would “encourage” workers to donate and another $1 million from college students. Three-and-a-half million dollars is peanuts in the grand scheme of things, but these sources, particularly the latter, are ridiculous. Funding an event they wouldn’t be around for doesn’t seem like a good use of a college student’s notoriously tight budget.
Permanent Use of Venues
One of the bigger changes in Boston 2024’s bid strategy was the shift in venue location. Originally planned as a “walking Olympics,” Boston 2024 expanded beyond Suffolk County due to increased support elsewhere in the state for the games and the impracticality of original venue proposals, like beach volleyball in Boston Common. This eliminated the need for some venues and would help to improve existing venues, like the Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center in Dorchester.
Still, major venues like the media center, aquatics center and velodrome were never finalized. The first one was of particular importance because proximity to venues is key to filing stories on deadline at the games.
Boston 2024 would have had additional years of planning to finalize these issues, though, so it’d be premature to dub it a success or failure at this juncture. For this item, the evaluation will mirror the planning – incomplete.
This item is, likewise, a little premature to evaluate in 2015. In the early stages of discussion, it did not carry the same weight as some of the other issues mentioned here, particularly since the costs were going to be covered by the federal government.
Olympic Planning vs. City Planning
If you had to boil down the argument for the opposition group, it’s that Boston 2024 was planning for the Olympics, rather than for the City of Boston. Planning was centered on a two-week event rather than a long term future.
In an Olympics post-mortem, Shirley Leung of The Boston Globe, who was decisively pro-Olympics, wrote, “Given the chance to think big about our future, we tied ourselves up in the minutiae of tax breaks and traffic studies.” This was an all too familiar argument from the pro-Olympics side: That the opponents of Boston 2024 couldn’t capitalize on an opportunity for Boston to host one of the world’s great events. What they failed to understand was that the opposition was not to the idea, but the execution of it. In discussion over Boston’s failed bid, IOC President Thomas Bach quipped that he wanted the USOC’s replacement bid to be “a little bit more oriented on facts than emotions.”
Here are some questions that never got clear factual answers from bid champions:
What would happen to Widett Circle?
Where would the businesses go?
What about Columbia Point?
What would happen to residents displaced by the games?
Despite the ultimate failure of the bid, Boston 2024 was by no means a complete bust. As our own Helene Solomon pointed out, this was the start of a massive planning effort. The battle lines no longer exist; supporters and opponents of Boston’s bid need to come together to pick up the pieces and continue to bring Boston forward. New York’s failed 2012 bid yielded a tremendous legacy. Let’s make the conversations of the last six months count.