Boston’s improbable dream — to become host city for the 2024 Summer Olympics — is suddenly a bit more real.
The city has made the United States Olympic Committee’s “short list” of potential 2024 host candidates, the committee confirmed Friday. Los Angeles, the host of the successful 1984 Summer Olympics; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C., are also on the list.
Making the short list is only a baby step in an arduous process, but it keeps alive the possibility of a Boston Olympics.
City and state political leaders generally reacted positively to the committee’s vote of confidence, without committing themselves to supporting a full-blown Olympic bid. Hosting the Olympics could cost billions of dollars for infrastructure that must be designed to have a use after the Games.
“While promising, this is the first step in a very long process and provides us with the opportunity to begin exploring what this means for Boston long-term,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement. “We intend to engage Boston residents, businesses, and community and neighborhood groups as we begin to discuss what it could mean for our neighborhoods and region.”
The committee’s board of directors trimmed the number of possible US host cities for the 2024 Summer Games to an official short list at a meeting Tuesday in Cambridge but declined at the time to reveal which cities made the cut. It appears San Diego and Dallas were eliminated at that meeting.
The cuts came after a 16-month process, during which the committee reached out to about 35 US cities to test interest in making a bid. Committee leaders have spent the last six months in discussions with a smaller group of interested cities that seemed to meet the initial requirements of hosting the international festival of sports.
“We’re extremely pleased with the level of interest US cities have shown in hosting the Games,” the committee’s chief executive, Scott Blackmun, said in a statement. “Boston, LA, San Francisco, and Washington have each given us reason to believe they can deliver a compelling and successful bid, and we look forward to continuing to explore the possibilities as we consider 2024.”
Boston’s pursuit of the Olympics has been driven by a group of prominent local business and civic leaders, led by Suffolk Construction chief executive John Fish, who have worked discreetly for months to identify potential sports venues and available land.
“Holding the Games in the Boston area would serve as a catalyst for growth in the region, supporting the kinds of major transportation and infrastructure improvements that are essential to our state’s economic future,” Fish said in a statement after the USOC confirmed Boston made the cut.
The group is now exploring the costs and benefits of bringing the Games to Boston. Its next step is to “begin a series of community meetings across the Commonwealth to gather information and solicit feedback, while working with urban planners, community activists, and financial experts to conduct a thorough due diligence process,” according to the statement from Fish.
Enormous hurdles remain before Boston could host an Olympics.
A successful bid is not possible without public support, and opponents of a Boston 2024 bid are organizing and reaching out to other groups that opposed Olympics in other cities.
“It’s great for Boston to be recognized as a world-class city, as the USOC did [Friday] by including Boston on the 2024 short list,” the group No Boston Olympics said in a statement sent by cochairman Liam Kerr. “But make no mistake — bidding on the Olympics is the wrong priority for Boston and our region. We have far more pressing challenges than throwing a three-week party for the global elite, one that comes with a $15 billion hangover.”
Another potential hurdle is that the committee has not yet decided whether it will put forth a US city to compete for the 2024 Games. The committee will spend roughly the next six to eight months performing “due diligence” on the cities that made its short list to determine whether any of them is capable of putting together a winning bid.
The committee’s bid team will make a number of visits to Boston and the other finalists to review plans and build relationships.
“It’s going to be making sure that the cities have the land and the buildings and the wherewithal and the consensus to do what they said they can do,” Blackmun told reporters Tuesday. “It’s a lot of land planning, it’s a lot of discussion around the host city contract, around the terms of our joint venture with each city.”
The committee wants to be sure cities have plans to address “the really big-ticket items” required for an Olympics, such as an Olympic stadium, a village to safely house thousands of athletes during the Games, and a media and broadcast center.
The committee will figure out by next year whether it will advance a bid by a US city. The winning US entry, if there is one, would then compete with bids from around the world.
The International Olympic Committee will choose the host of the 2024 games in 2017.
With the release of the short list, public debate will begin in the four selected cities. Local public officials, business leaders, and the citizenry need to decide whether a serious Olympic bid is worth pursuing.
Governor Deval Patrick said Friday that planning for the Games could be an opportunity to tackle “unmet transportation needs.” He praised proponents for “thinking big about the Commonwealth and projecting that into the world.”
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said he was proud that Boston — “a well-managed, world-class city” — made the short list.
“At the same time, I’m acutely aware of the fiscal problems that have struck other host Olympic cities,” DeLeo said in a statement. “I plan to carefully review financial proposals and costs associated with hosting the Olympics.”
Senate President Therese Murray said she is “extremely supportive of the entire effort.”
“Events would be held all over the Commonwealth, not just in Boston, and it would benefit the entire state,” Murray said in a statement. “We should do whatever we can to move this process forward.”
Two former governors and a former Boston mayor encouraged the city to explore a bid.
“I think we ought to go for it,” said former governor Michael Dukakis, a Democrat. “Of course, I am concerned about cost and about our ability to handle the financial burdens involved, but done right, it could help us continue to make Boston one of the world’s great cities.”
Former governor William Weld, a Republican, said, “the world would be thrilled to come to Boston.”
“I know from my travels that the leadership of most countries in the world is well aware of all that Boston has to offer — not least because they send the tuition checks here,” Weld said.
Added former mayor Ray Flynn: “If there is one thing that defines Boston, it is competition and sports. The Olympics is the ultimate sporting event in the world, so it’s really a natural fit.”
The United States has not hosted the Summer Olympics since 1996, in Atlanta. St. Louis hosted in 1904 and Los Angeles hosted in 1932 as well as 1984, according to the USOC.
More coverage:Mark.Arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.