Could Olympic effort make lasting impact on landscape?

Bid raised expectations for transformative city development

Organizers envisioned Widett Circle in Boston being redeveloped as a new neighborhood after the Games ended, similar to what’s pictured in the rendering above. The area was being pushed as a site for the Olympic  stadium.
Boston 2024
Organizers envisioned Widett Circle in Boston being redeveloped as a new neighborhood after the Games ended, similar to what’s pictured in the rendering above. The area was being pushed as a site for the Olympic stadium.

Can there be an Olympic legacy with no Olympics?

Boston’s bid for the 2024 Games carried the promise not only of a two-week global event but of a permanent transformation of neighborhoods that were underdeveloped — or even unknown.

Widett Circle, the oft-overlooked meatpacking district, became hot property as bid organizers targeted it for an Olympic stadium. A derelict strip of Dorchester Avenue was suddenly viewed as a future tourist destination.


While Boston will not host the Games, or even see the bid process through, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the exercise of coming this far could still make a lasting impact on the city’s landscape.

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Other recent, would-be hosts continue to feel the effects of failed or scuttled bids — for good and bad.

Despite losing out to London for the 2012 Games, New York moved ahead with subsidized, middle-income housing in Queens, on the proposed Olympic Village site, and with high-rise rezoning on Manhattan’s West Side.

But in Chicago, which fell short in its 2016 bid, taxpayers are still making debt payments on a parcel the city bought with housing athletes in mind. Officials are seeking a developer for an alternative project.

The Boston Globe spoke with developers and the owners of prospective Olympic sites in Boston about how the bid’s demise might affect their plans.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

1. Marine Industrial Park


The future of Boston’s Marine Industrial Park became linked to the Olympics in the past few months as Boston 2024 advanced a proposal to move the Widett Circle wholesalers there to make way for an Olympic stadium. The talks focused on 28 vacant waterfront acres in the industrial park controlled by the Massachusetts Port Authority.

City officials are moving ahead with plans to rethink how the industrial park can be used under its maritime industrial zoning status. Those discussions started long before the park was sucked into the Olympics debate. But they might have gained momentum if the Widett meatpackers needed to move to the Massport site on a tight timetable.

Massport CEO Thomas Glynn said the Olympics planning teed up a potentially good idea, but now it needs to get evaluated on its own merits — along with other possible uses for the authority’s site.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

2. Dorchester Ave.

The promise of Boston 2024’s redevelopment plan for Widett Circle inevitably boosted the profile of the nearby one- and two-story industrial properties that line Dorchester Avenue through South Boston.

But you know what? These sites would be popping anyway. Quiet Man Pub has already given way to a Starbucks at one end, next to the MBTA’s Broadway Station. It’s only a matter of time before similar changes come to Andrew Square, one stop south.


City officials recently identified this stretch as a prime candidate for change and began a rezoning initiative to allow residential units and restaurants on industrial properties. A meeting to discuss this effort at the Iron Workers Local 7 headquarters this week is still happening. And it’s likely that redevelopment will happen at a quicker pace there than at Widett Circle, because the Dorchester Avenue corridor doesn’t have Widett’s infrastructure challenges.

“It’s a good example of low-scale industrial uses that are right on the edge of a residential neighborhood,” said Matthew Kiefer, a development lawyer at Goulston & Storrs. “Without the Olympics in the future, that’s [still] a pretty good candidate for growth.”

David L Ryan, Globe Staff

3. Post Office/Fort Point Channel

So much for that Olympic Boulevard. Boston 2024’s plan for a grand walkway to link South Station with a proposed stadium in South Boston depended on a complex land swap, one that would help expand the train station and relocate the Postal Service’s Fort Point complex.

The Postal Service controls the stretch of Dorchester Avenue along the channel — the proposed Olympic Boulevard — and keeps it closed to the public. State transportation officials have been in talks for years with the Postal Service to move the mail-sorting facility. That would open up Dorchester Avenue again and allow the state to add more train tracks at South Station. The Olympics plan was seen by some as a way to expedite the talks.

Massport CEO Thomas Glynn said this remains a priority for Governor Charlie Baker’s administration. (Glynn’s authority controls the South Boston site where the postal operation would go.) In fact, Glynn said, Baker plans to meet with US Representative Stephen Lynch in Washington this week to talk about the Postal Service relocation. Lynch has been cool to a stadium in his neighborhood, so the end of the Boston 2024 Olympics might just help move these discussions along, after all.

4. Public Works Yard

The New England Revolution, eying a city-owned tow lot in South Boston as the site for a new soccer stadium, has long maintained that the Olympic bidding process has no bearing on the club’s plans.

But dropping the bid would seem to help owner Robert Kraft by eliminating a potential competitor in the neighborhood. Kraft’s proposed stadium, seating 18,0000 to 22,000 fans, would have been just one strong kick from a 60,000-seat Olympic stadium at Widett Circle.

Now, any changes to parking and mass transit in the area could be made with only one stadium — Kraft’s — in mind.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

5. Columbia Point/UMass Boston

No property owner may feel more jilted than UMass Boston, which has lost a potential partner in redeveloping the 20-acre site of the former Bayside Expo Center into student dormitories. During the Olympics, the dorms would have housed athletes in an Olympic Village on Columbia Point.

For now, anyway, the university won’t be building new residential units. Instead, it will be knocking down the expo center to create 600 additional parking spaces.

The parking use is temporary and was preplanned, said UMass Boston spokesman DeWayne Lehman. But without the hard deadlines imposed by the Olympics, “there is no timeline for redeveloping Bayside,” he said.

Ending Boston’s bid simplifies things for Corcoran Jennison Cos., which would have had to tweak its plans to expand the Doubletree Hotel and build a six-story, 184-unit apartment complex to dovetail with the vision of Boston 2024.

The decision also means the Boston Teachers Union can move ahead with plans to double its Mount Vernon Street headquarters, adding a parking garage with 308 spots. The property was envisioned as part of the Olympic Village, and president Richard Stutman said he had discussed the possibility of a land swap with Boston 2024.

David L Ryan, Globe Staff

6. Widett Circle

Many downtown power brokers passed the warehouses and trucks at Widett Circle on their way to work, but few paid them much mind — until Boston 2024 identified the 83-acre industrial area as the centerpiece of an Olympic stadium plan.

The Olympics group proposed a massive tax break that would entice a master developer to tackle the $1 billion-plus in infrastructure work needed to remake the area, which includes nearly 20 acres that the New Boston Food Market cooperative occupies.

Now that the secret is out, real estate insiders say it’s probably only a matter of time before Widett gets developed, even with the big deck that must be built over the railroad tracks before construction can happen.

Maybe it takes longer. And maybe the redevelopment plan won’t be as grandiose as the new neighborhood that Boston 2024 envisioned taking shape after the Olympics are gone. But the site is just too close to downtown and the Red Line to be overlooked anymore.

“It’s a gem in the rough,” said David Begelfer, head of the real estate group NAIOP Massachusetts. “This has the potential to be the next big thing.”