Over the past week, we’ve heard from just about everyone on the demise
of Boston 2024. But what about those who put their money where their mouth is and bankrolled the privately funded bid to bring the Olympics to Massachusetts?
“I’m sad,” said Boston developer Ron Druker, who wrote a check for $50,000 to the organizers. “I think it was a great opportunity. I understand reality. The timing wasn’t great.”
Serial entrepreneur Steve Belkin, who contributed $100,000, summed up the experience this way: “It’s a shame.”
Druker and Belkin echoed the sentiment of other donors, who expressed much more disappointment than anger at the five-ring circus that became the Boston bid. Of course, these deep-pocketed supporters are much too savvy to openly criticize the organizers — many of them business leaders who run in their same circles.
Donors didn’t have harsh words for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh or Governor Charlie Baker, either — each, depending on whom you ask, played a passive-aggressive role in the implosion of our bid. Walsh championed the cause, then got cold feet over a financial guarantee. Baker held off taking a public position, saying he’d wait until next month, when consultants were set to deliver an independent study of the Boston 2024 plan.
Still, supporters understood the fiscal realities both politicians faced.
Boston hosting the 2024 Summer Games was always a long shot. The odds of losing were much greater than of winning. Throwing money at Boston 2024 was no different than playing a high-stakes hand of poker at one of Steve Wynn’s casinos. But a bet on a better future for the region was one worth making — and many Olympic donors would do it again.
Real estate magnate Peter Palandjian contributed more than $100,000 to Boston 2024 last year after his kids — ages 16 to 22 — got excited about the prospects of an Olympics in their hometown.
“I believe in being aspirational,” said Palandjian, chief executive and chairman of Intercontinental Real Estate Corp. “Sitting on the bench doesn’t work.”
So Boston took a big swing — and whiffed. Now what? Palandjian is not so sure if there will be much of an Olympic legacy, especially after how the public discussion turned into what he called a “referendum” on the 1 percent.
“I found the snarkiness on the other side — while I get it, it didn’t feel right to me,” he said.
Hosting the Olympics, Palandjian added, “was bold and visionary, and that’s not always populist. It’s hard to balance those things.”
Bob Reynolds, chief executive of Putnam Investments, was an early donor and sat on the board of Boston 2024. When I talked to him Thursday, he sounded like an athlete who had just missed the medal stand. Hard work went into crafting the bid — and now there might not be much to show for it.
“It’s unfortunate, and just like many things else, we need to move on,” Reynolds said.
The turning point in Reynolds’ mind was the bad winter and the havoc it wreaked on the MBTA. The United States Olympic Committee gave Boston the US nomination on Jan. 8, and by the end of the month, the region was walloped with a blizzard that turned into our never-ending winter. Which got people thinking: If a bad snowstorm can bring the region to its knees, how can we ever host an Olympics?
“I thought we had a tremendous amount of momentum,” Reynolds said. “We get the announcement, then all hell broke loose, weather-wise.”
Boston 2024, which raised more than $14 million in cash and in-kind contributions from the private sector, is now winding down its operations. Even so, developer Tom Alperin, who donated both time and money to the organizing committee, is holding out hope that something good will come out of our short-lived Olympic dream.
The way Alperin sees it, the Boston bid failed because it had to play by the USOC rules to keep the initial plan secret. He called the process “fundamentally flawed,” and next time — and he’s not sure if there will be one — organizers have to work with the community early on.
Alperin hopes the conversations will continue on how to redevelop Widett Circle, currently the home of wholesale food companies and where the temporary stadium was supposed to be built, and bring more housing to Columbia Point next to UMass Boston, where the athletes village would have gone. He also hopes we finally do something about fixing our transportation system.
His big Olympic take-away?
“Keep up the pressure to invest in ourselves,” Alperin said, “and to try to think a little big.”