Hosting the Summer Olympics is a formidable, even monumental, task, so many Bostonians might be excused for choking a bit and wondering what it all means that the city is on the US Olympic Committee’s short list to bid for the 2024 games. Mainly, it means that Boston’s proposal is viable enough to stand alongside those of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington for the USOC’s endorsement. That’s a tribute to the hard work of Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish and the other civic and business leaders on Boston’s 11-member Olympics exploratory committee. But there are still many, many steps in the process, and both local and national officials will have to make thorough determinations on feasibility and cost effectiveness. For now, though, Bostonians should put aside any Big Dig-inspired anxieties and celebrate the fact that city leaders were able to move quickly and effectively to seize what could be a major opportunity to showcase Boston on the world stage.
For Boston, there may be as much benefit in pulling together and making a bid as in having that bid accepted. In the past, many other cities were far more likely than Boston to want to show themselves off to the world. Some combination of Yankee reticence, flinty skepticism about any costly undertaking, and, frankly, lack of civic cohesiveness tended to keep Boston on the sidelines. The prevailing attitude seemed to be: Let the citizens of the world come to Boston, if they want, but they shouldn’t expect an invitation.
To be sure, some of that cautionary reflex will be useful in assessing the logistical obstacles, and especially the costs, of hosting the Games. The event itself will break even, but the infrastructure improvements will almost certainly be more than $10 billion. The exploratory committee determined that the Boston area had enough hotel space and sports venues to satisfy the USOC but would need to add four major pieces of infrastructure: an 80,000-person Olympic stadium, a 100-acre Olympic village to house 16,500 athletes, and special venues for cycling and aquatics. Public transit would also have to be expanded. On the other side of the ledger, there would be billions of tourism dollars and other economic benefits.
In the coming weeks and months, city and state leaders need to explore thoroughly how many of the new pieces of infrastructure dovetail with existing needs. In an ideal situation, hosting the games would spur investments in transportation and the construction of housing that must be made anyway. In a worst-case scenario, the city would be stuck footing the bill for useless improvements.
Hosting an Olympics can be a glorious party and a logistical nightmare all in one. But no one should discount the enormous benefits in promoting the area’s extraordinary assets on the world stage — at least until there is a full accounting of the price.