Business & Tech

Shirley Leung

Catching up with the LA Olympics, and wondering what could have been in Boston

In September, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti celebrated their successful Olympic bids.
Buda Mendes/Getty Images
In September, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti celebrated their successful Olympic bids.

I can’t help but get wistful when I hear Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gush about hosting the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Those were the Games that could have been Boston’s had we not self destructed, paving the way for LA to win the bid.

Garcetti — who was in Boston last week for the US Conference of Mayors — told me how Olympic planning has been “amazing” and that the City of Angels last year was able to wrangle an unprecedented deal from the International Olympic Committee.


LA had been bidding for the 2024 games but agreed to instead host 2028 if the IOC sweetened the pot. Among the concessions: LA would get an additional $160 million from the group, money that already has begun pouring in and will be used to increase access to youth sports in LA at low or no cost to participants.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“We have more time than anybody’s ever had to plan a Summer Games,” Garcetti said.

Ironically, LA is the one city that doesn’t need extra time. A decade out, all the major venues are already built or under construction. The dorms at University of California-Los Angeles will serve as the athletic village, the University of Southern California will be the media center, and the historic Coliseum and the new Los Angeles Rams stadium will jointly host the opening and closing ceremonies.

Still, Angelenos have Olympic fever — and not the kind that felled Bostonians.

“The planning is inspiring a lot of civic and infrastructure visioning,” said Garcetti. “You have this fixed point on the horizon 10 years from now that really asks the question: What sort of a city do we want to be in 2028?”


The Los Angeles Clippers answered the call this spring with $10 million to fuel the Olympic dream of boosting youth sports. The team’s money will go toward renovating every public basketball court in LA — nearly 350 of them — by 2021.

That’s carrying on one of the biggest legacies of the 1984 Summer Olympics — the last time LA hosted. Back then, surplus Olympics money was funneled into youth sports in underserved neighborhoods.

“After ’84, we built tennis courts in Compton, and the Williams sisters were discovered,” Garcetti said, referring to tennis stars Serena and Venus.

Beyond sports, the Olympics is giving LA a deadline to complete an ambitious list of transportation projects by 2028. Yes, this means fixing LA’s version of the T.

Garcetti — who also chairs the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority — has unveiled a “Twenty-Eight by ’28” initiative. Many of the projects will be done by 2028 — including additional rail lines and bus rapid transit corridors — but nine will need to be accelerated if they’re to be done when the Games begin.


“It’s a big push,” said Garcetti, one of a handful of US mayors who are flirting with a 2020 presidential run.

Still, Garcetti was quick to point out that none of these transportation improvements are being done for the Olympics.

“Our relationship with the Olympics has been: Don’t try to fit the city into the Olympics. Pitch the Olympics to fit into the city,” he said. “We are doing this for ourselves, and the Olympics will benefit.”

Well, that was Boston’s pitch, too, until our improbable bid imploded in 2015, just seven months after being selected by the United States Olympic Committee to vie for the 2024 Summer Games.

Before Boston got its surprise nod, LA was considered among the front-runners. Garcetti recalled being shocked when he got the original phone call from the USOC saying Boston had won. He thought San Francisco would be his city’s biggest competition.

“I am ready to hear Los Angeles . . . ‘Boston? I was like, ‘What? ’ ” Garcetti said.

Boston 2024 — at the time led by Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish — pitched a vision of a walkable games in a university town that had never hosted the Games.

“There was a really compelling vision,” acknowledged Garcetti.

After LA lost, Garcetti pledged to help Boston and Mayor Marty Walsh, whom he described as “a dear friend.”

But as public opposition in Massachusetts grew — the last WBUR radio poll in July 2015 indicated that only 42 percent statewide supported the games — Casey Wasserman, chair of LA’s Olympic organizing committee, wanted to tell the USOC that LA was still available. (In that city, the Games had garnered public support ranging from 73 to 83 percent,)

“Casey said, ‘I don’t know, it looks like Boston may be shaky,’ ” recalled Garcetti. “I said, ‘No, we need to support Boston. There is always opposition. I am sure it’s going to be fine.’ ”

Not this time.

On July 27, 2015, a somber Walsh held a press conference announcing that Boston had agreed to bow out amid growing opposition and his uneasiness to sign a financial guarantee to cover cost overruns related to the Games.

Yes, that is something LA still had to do.

“It would be rational for any city to give long pause to that. We are only the nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee the Olympics,” said Garcetti. “We are the unique city, maybe in the United States that can do that, look our constituents in the eye, and in good conscience say, ‘Don’t worry we are going to make money.’ ”

Many Angelenos, including Garcetti, have fond memories of the ’84 Olympics. He was 13 years old when he got to attend the Games. He remembers watching Carl Lewis and the US men’s team win the 4 x 100 relay race, seeing Mary Lou Retton at a gymnastics match, and attending the closing ceremonies.

“I loved seeing the world in my city,” he said. “I saw how it transformed my city.”

Even for Olympic critic Andrew Zimbalist, it’s hard to say anything bad about LA 2028.

“LA is sui generis,” said Zimbalist, a Smith College economics professor and the author of “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup.” “It has all the stuff it needs.”

Of course, I’ve written this column in part to rub it in the face of the Boston 2024 naysayers. Zimbalist, however, still isn’t convinced Boston’s plan could have worked, pointing out how there’s not enough open land and that there were too many venues to build.

But had we been a little more bold, Boston could have negotiated an Olympics on its own terms the way LA did. Instead, we are back where we started with a Green Line meltdown and wondering whether anyone will fix the T anytime soon.

And instead of mounting enthusiasm for a world class event, what counts for excitement around here is a photo of a model Red Line car that passengers can tour later this summer.

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