Group tries to bring Olympics to Boston in 2024
Mayor’s backing is 1st goal in complicated quest for Summer Games
Go ahead: Imagine a torch relay along the Charles River or a dash up Heartbreak Hill with a gold medal at stake. The faintest flicker of the Olympic flame has been lit over Boston.
A private group called the Boston Olympic Exploratory Committee wants to bring the Summer Games to Boston in 2024, and hopes to get Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s blessing to pursue preliminary support from local businesses.
It expects to win the mayor’s approval soon, following a promising meeting with City Hall officials Monday, said committee chairman Eric Reddy of West Boylston.
Two weeks ago, the United States Olympic Committee solicited bids from Boston and 34 other municipalities. The positive report from the Monday meeting at City Hall is the earliest indication the city may give the idea real consideration. Menino has not commented publicly on the USOC’s invitation, and his office did not respond to Globe inquiries.
Reddy said the committee had been working behind the scenes for several months. It has reserved an Internet domain, www.boston-2024.org, set up a Twitter feed, and started a Facebook page — with “likes” from Menino and gold medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman of Needham, among 342 others.
Boston officials and city business leaders seriously considered a bid to host the 2004 or 2008 Olympics. Eventually, they decided not to submit a proposal, concluding their chances were slim because the United States already had been awarded two Games within six years.
The United States has not hosted the Summer Olympics since 1996, when the games were held in Atlanta, and the International Olympic Committee emphatically rejected recent bids by New York and Chicago. But since accepting a smaller cut of Olympic TV and marketing money under a new revenue sharing agreement with the international committee last May, the US panel is increasingly optimistic the next American attempt could succeed.
Reddy — the senior charitable sales manager at Boston-based Tickets-for-Charity, an online ticket seller that directs portions of sales to nonprofits — and his group appear serious in their Olympic interests.
Even before USOC chief executive Scott A. Blackmun wrote to Menino and other mayors on Feb. 19, Reddy’s group had informed the committee of its interest in organizing a Boston bid for the 2024 games.
The USOC’s response? Get your mayor on board.
Reddy said his group was close after meeting Monday with Christopher Cook, director of the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, and other Menino aides. He hopes to have a letter of endorsement from Menino in hand within a week.
“What we want is a green light to pursue this for, say, five months and see how far we get,” Reddy said. “We would form a [nonprofit organization] and begin to seek donations.”
Reddy, who declined to identify other members of the group, said it planned to meet Tuesday evening with advisers, including Rikk Larsen, who sat on a committee that explored a Boston Olympic bid in the 1990s.
Reddy stressed that his group was “trying to be quiet about this,” and did not want to overhype an effort that remains in its early stages.
Reddy said he and his colleagues have been contacting local business leaders to gauge their interest in backing an Olympic bid. They persuaded Steve Freyer — who chaired the Boston Organizing Committee in the ’90s — to give them his only copy of the group’s old bid prospectus, which outlined plans for venues, lodging, and other logistics.
They also have allies in the state Legislature, including Senator Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat who in January filed a bill that would create a special commission to study the feasibility of hosting the Summer Olympics.
Staging the games would be a massive enterprise for Boston, likely requiring significant infrastructure improvements. Recent Olympics have cost tens of billions of dollars.
In its letter, the USOC stated that the 2024 host city will need a reliable public transit system, an Olympic village that can accommodate 16,500 athletes, technical support for more than 15,000 media members, and 45,000 hotel rooms to house visitors from around the world.
At present, the cash-strapped MBTA operates with a subway system with some cars that have been in service for 44 years.
There are only about 30,000 hotel rooms in all of Greater Boston, according to the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau.
In recent cycles, domestic bidding alone has cost prospective hosts more than $10 million.
Reddy said he has entered the prebid process with eyes wide open.
“This is a legitimately crazy idea I’m presenting,” Reddy acknowledged. “But someone is going to win this, and Boston has a lot to offer.”
Twenty-one years ago, Larsen and Freyer had a similar vision.
Beginning in 1992, they sought the backing of prominent Boston businesses for a bid to host the 2004 or 2008 Summer Games.
They raised about $3 million for a feasibility study, surveyed the former site of Boston State Hospital in Mattapan as the potential grounds of an Olympic stadium, and earned support from key politicians — including Menino, William F. Weld, the former governor, and former senator John F. Kerry.
“We believed deeply that it was possible,” said Freyer, who represents professional athletes and broadcasters as president of Freyer Management Associates. But in the end, the Boston Organizing Committee’s support base was not broad enough.
Powerful executives at Bank of Boston, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, and Hill, Holliday were among the vocal skeptics and opponents. In 1997, the committee decided not to submit a bid to the USOC, concluding that its chances were slim, especially since the United States had just hosted the Summer Olympics a year earlier and was scheduled to hold the Winter Games in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
Larsen said be believes the new committee’s odds are better, partly because Boston’s roads and racial climate have improved.
“But you need a person willing to write a big check, someone who sees it as a personal odyssey, and the only people I can think of are the Kraft family,” he said, referring to the family of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
A Patriots spokesman said he was not aware of any overture from the exploratory committee.
John P. Hamill, the retired president of Fleet Bank of Massachusetts who led an advisory board to the Boston Organizing Committee in the ’90s, agreed there is “a better atmosphere” for a Boston Olympic bid today and said he is happy to pass the torch to Reddy’s group.
“It’s a very exciting project and is certainly worth a hard look,” Hamill said. “The fact that it’s being tried again is laudable.”