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Boston Olympics in 2024 would be a ‘monumental task’

Panel calls Olympics in city feasible but says space for venues uncertain

A aerial view of the downtown area of Boston.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2012

A aerial view of the downtown area of Boston.

Boston has enough hotel rooms, security expertise, and cultural cachet to host the 2024 Summer Olympics but would face a challenge finding space for an 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium and a 100-acre Olympic Village, according to a special commission’s draft report.

The panel concluded that Boston could feasibly host the 2024 Olympics but would face a “monumental task” making the densely packed city easy to navigate and ready for the world’s largest sporting event. And that’s even before talking about the price tag.

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A copy of the report, obtained by the Globe, said the commission was not ultimately recommending that Boston launch a bid to host the Olympics but urged supporters in the public and private sectors to set up a nonprofit group to explore the idea further and to work with the United States Olympic Committee on developing a bid.

John Fish, the chief executive of Suffolk Construction and leader of the commission, said the group would also need to conduct an in-depth study of the costs of hosting the Olympics, an issue that was not examined in the draft report.

“I am encouraged by the potential opportunities that can be borne out of hosting the Olympics,” he said in an interview Tuesday. But he said, “the next question needs to be asked: is this in our best interests, socially, politically, and economically?”

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The 11-member commission was created by Governor Deval Patrick and the state Legislature to determine whether Boston could meet the basic requirements for a host city set forth by the USOC. Its members included state lawmakers, the Suffolk County sheriff, and the chief executive of Boston Duck Tours.

The draft report, which is being circulated among commission members, will undergo final revisions this week and is due to be released to the public on Friday or Saturday, Fish said.

The USOC has indicated it plans to narrow the list of American cities by the end of the year. The International Olympic Committee has said it plans to announce the winning city in 2017. Other potential bids could come from Paris, Madrid, Rome, and South Africa, the report said.

The draft report argued the Olympics would serve as a “powerful catalyst” to help policymakers and private companies focus on some of the region’s long-term needs, namely its lack of housing for middle-income workers and inadequate public transit system. Those problems must be addressed if the state is to compete economically in the future, the report said.

In many respects, the commission said, Greater Boston is well suited to host the Olympics.

It currently has 51,000 hotel rooms, more than the 45,000 required by the IOC. An additional 5,000 hotel rooms are set to be built by 2024 and, if more space were needed, visitors could use the 30,000 college dorm rooms in the area or stay on cruise ships docked in Boston Harbor, the report said.

John Fish, commission leader, said he is encouraged by the potential opportunities.

Bill Brett for the Globe/File

John Fish, commission leader, said he is encouraged by the potential opportunities.

Turning to security, the report said the region has enough local, state, and federal law enforcement officials to ensure the Games would be safe. The report quoted former Boston police commissioner Edward F. Davis as telling the panel “we are probably better suited than any other place in the country,” to provide security for the Games.

Massachusetts is also home to 20 top-flight track-and-field venues, 14 stadiums for soccer, nine large baseball parks, five major basketball arenas, and two horse-racing tracks.

But there are four necessary venues the state lacks. The biggest — the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium and 100-acre Olympic Village, with 16,500 beds and a 5,000-seat dining hall — would ideally be built close to the city center, to satisfy the IOC’s recommendations. However, land in Boston’s urban core is scarce, the report said. The state would also need an Olympic-sized velodrome for the cycling events and a large aquatics center.

The public transit system would need to be expanded, “requiring additional and significant investments in our infrastructure to handle the capacity that an Olympics would bring to Boston,” the report said. Traffic — already a notorious bugaboo of life in Boston — would also be a concern, the report noted.

The commission acknowledged that it is an open question whether Bostonians, who it noted have a well-earned reputation for being slow to embrace sweeping new endeavors, even want to host the Games. “The biggest concern is related to the actual cost associated with hosting — from where funding comes from to how it would be allocated,” the report said.

The commission’s official charge listed costs as one of several areas it was to investigate. But Senator Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat and commission member, argued it would have been impossible to determine an accurate price for the Games, without knowing more about the location of the venues and the structure of the public-private partnerships that would fund them.

The report warned that cities that have spent heavily solely to stage the Olympics and promote national pride — such as Beijing and Athens — have struggled financially, and their venues have been unused after the athletes left. But others, such as London and Barcelona, have used the Games to revitalize neglected neighborhoods.

“The Olympics can be helpful, but only if you pick the right projects and make sure people are going to want to use the projects after the athletes are gone,” said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, who did not serve on the commission. “For every Barcelona, there are other cases, probably more cases, where the infrastructure only served the Olympics and then fell into disuse and disrepair, and that’s worse than doing nothing.”

The exploration of an Olympic bid has prompted some residents to form an opposition group called No Boston Olympics. Liam Kerr, a member of the group, said he agreed with Olympic boosters that Boston needs better housing and transportation, but he argued the Games are not a cost-effective way of tackling those projects.

“We don’t need the IOC to give us a deadline for how to shape the future of our city and state,” he said.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe .com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.
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