Shirley Leung

Boston group eyes Olympic venues

Potential world-class locations come into view as Boston backers pursue a bid for the 2024 Olympics

Boston Common suits one of the Games’ most popular spectator sports, beach volleyball.
AP (left) and Getty Images/File
Boston Common suits one of the Games’ most popular spectator sports, beach volleyball.

Beach volleyball on Boston Common, dressage in Franklin Park, and the opening ceremonies at a new 60,000-seat stadium on the edge of South Boston off the Southeast Expressway.

Boston, are you ready for some Olympic dreamin’?

Admittedly, many of us are not. Some already have nightmares. But with the city on the US Olympic Committee’s short list for the 2024 Summer Games, we’re about to hear a lot more about how Boston could pull it off.


The Olympic dream team, spearheaded by Suffolk Construction chief John Fish, has created an inventory of potential sites across the region, detailing everything from where we might build a village for athletes to where boxing matches could be held.

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We need to hammer out these details soon. Yes, this is also an open invitation to naysayers and NIMBYs, whose critiques should be part of the process. Don’t hold back, because the US bid could be decided as early as January.

There are plenty of questions. It will take billions of dollars to put on the games, and we haven’t figured out how to pay for it. For those who are suspicious of Fish’s motives — the construction king stands to make money from the hosting — consider David D’Alessandro’s take.

The former chief executive of John Hancock, a company that previously sponsored the Olympics, has been skeptical of a Boston bid.

No more.


“Is it technically feasible? Of course it is,” said D’Alessandro, who has attended eight Olympics. “If Atlanta can do it, Boston can do it, please. Atlanta is a second-rate city at best. And they pulled it off in 1996.”

He believes that the political environment is right, and that getting business leaders involved is critical.

D’Alessandro says Boston is not going after the Olympics because the city needs the money and jobs. We are also not doing it because we need to prove something to the world.

“Why does Tokyo need it? They’ve got the 2020 games,” he said. “I think the argument about need needs to be set aside . . . What is wrong with wanting it?”

And on that note, let’s play out some Olympic dreams. Fish said most of the locations are secret, but I’ve been able to figure out where they might be.


The easy part will be the sporting venues, because we have so many existing college and professional arenas. Imagine the next Michael Phelps swimming in one of our Olympic-size university pools (with additional seating), gymnastics and basketball at TD Garden, soccer at Gillette Stadium. And if baseball returns as an Olympic sport, how about Fenway Park?

Not all of the sites have to be permanent or specially built.

Picture table tennis at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, with its high ceilings and wide open layout, or a temporary athletic center for boxing and TaeKownDo at the old Allston rail yard, which Harvard University owns.

The area off of Frontage Road near a Ted Williams Tunnel ramp (rear) where backers say an Olympic stadium could sit.
John Tlumacki/Globe staff
The area off of Frontage Road near a Ted Williams Tunnel ramp (rear) where backers say an Olympic stadium could sit.

Then there are the tough pieces of the puzzle, like upgrading transportation and finding land to build billion-dollar structures in one of the country’s hottest real estate markets.

For the signature stadium, I am told, the committee is looking at cobbling together parcels in South Boston, including a city tow lot and an adjacent MBTA maintenance facility. You can see it off the Southeast Expressway when you’re driving into the city.

The site would provide the obligatory skyline vista after the cameras pan back from the opening and closing ceremonies.

Track-and-field events would also take place there.

Later, it could be reused as a soccer stadium (something that Bob Kraft would love for his New England Revolution) or a concert venue. That’s an important element of a plan that is modeled after those in London and Barcelona, which hosted the Summer Games in 2012 and 1992.

Our motto is “no white elephants” — in other words, whatever we build must have an afterlife.

Another big-ticket item is the $2 billion Olympic village that would house about 16,000 athletes and coaches.

A few years ago, the University of Massachusetts Boston bought the shuttered Bayside Expo Center, and the committee has identified that waterfront site as place to house athletes, in part because of its access to the MBTA’s Red Line and I-93.

Afterward, it could be converted into student dorms, something that would elevate the school’s status.

About 20,000 journalists would swarm the city like locusts, and they’d need a place to broadcast and file stories.

Other cities have used their convention halls for media centers, and Jim Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, said he’d consider the Southie facility for that purpose.

The committee is also contemplating building a media center in the Seaport District on Massport land off Summer Street, which could later be turned into offices and labs. But that site is already in play as the possible home of a Postal Service facility, and the Olympics may be too far off to keep it on hold. Even if Boston is selected as the US bid, the International Olympic Committee won’t make a decision until 2017 on who gets the nod for 2024.

Other locations face similar issues, highlighting the challenges of planning an event that won’t take place for a decade. Understandably, some landlords aren’t ready to carry the torch and fly that five-ring flag.

“It’s not something we are pursuing,” said Tom Glynn, the head of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan International Airport and is a large landowner in Boston. Still, “we are a public agency, and we need to be part of the civic agenda.”

Officials from Harvard, UMass Boston, the state, and the city said they are part of the Olympics conversation, but it’s too early to make any commitments.

There is one commitment we should make.

Whether we end up hosting the games, we owe it to the city to give the Olympics a fair hearing.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.