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Mayor Walsh warms up to 2024 Olympics bid

Says Olympics would add stature, pursuit can help Boston plan

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke at an event aimed to generate public interest in a 2024 Olympics bid.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke at an event aimed to generate public interest in a 2024 Olympics bid.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who was initially noncommittal about the prospect of a Boston Olympics, now says he believes it could help the city plan for its future and has begun to publicly champion the cause.

“I’m cautiously enthused about where we’re heading,” Walsh said, in a Globe interview about the city’s Olympic bid. “If we got chosen as an Olympic site? I think it would be a tremendous opportunity for the city of Boston in so many different ways.”

A private group of prominent Massachusetts businesspeople, led by Suffolk Construction chief John Fish, has been working since last year on a bid to bring the 2024 Summer Games to the city. The US Olympic Committee announced in June that Boston had made its short list of potential 2024 hosts, along with Los Angeles, which hosted the Games in 1932 and 1984, San Francisco, and Washington.

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Walsh issued a statement in June after the city made the short list that sounded open-minded, if perfunctory.

RELATED: 10/7: Walsh, athletes press for Boston Olympics in 2024

But now he sounds like a mayor selling an idea.

“I think just legacy, as far as Boston hosting the Olympics and being an Olympic city, puts us on a scale not too many cities can claim,” he said. “I think it adds value to our convention business. I think it adds value to our tourism business.”

And preparing for an Olympic bid could be a powerful motivator to “push us to really do a comprehensive plan on what the future of Boston will look like,” Walsh said.

Brooklyn, he said, is benefiting from planning that was part of New
York’s unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Games. “It has given Brooklyn the opportunity to go after manufacturing jobs; given Brooklyn the opportunity to build middle class housing — all of the same initiatives that I’m trying to do as mayor of the city of Boston,” he said.

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Walsh said he has grown more comfortable since June with the financing plans of Boston 2024, the local group pursuing the Games. The group is promising a privately financed Olympics that would depend on public infrastructure improvements and collaboration with colleges and universities.

RELATED: Compact Boston may have Olympic advantage

“Obviously the business community would have to be a partner here,” Walsh said. “And I think some of the infrastructure stuff will be paid publicly, but that has to be done regardless. In order to improve our transportation system, we have to make an investment in our infrastructure. By laying a plan out now, with the potential of an Olympics, it will get us there.”

He imagines “new roadways being built with the help of state and federal money” as well as “an opportunity to build out and continue to upgrade our subway system.”

“We’re not going to mortgage the future of the city away,” he said. “Any money that goes into public infrastructure is going to benefit all residents for a long period of time.”

Making the US Olympic Committee’s short list is just one step in a long process toward winning the Games. The committee is expected to decide by early next year if the United States will bid for the 2024 Olympics. If it does, it will advance one US city to compete against cities from around the world.

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The International Olympic Committee will choose the host of the 2024 Games in 2017.

RELATED: Leung: Olympic-size ambitions, hurdles for Boston

The local Olympic planning group has been quietly working to identify potential sites for venues, including big ticket items such as an Olympic village to house thousands of athletes and a stadium that could seat 80,000 people for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as track and field competitions.

Potential venues will be rolled out for public discussion in coming months.

“The beauty of what we’re talking about in Boston is somewhat of a walkable Olympics with a lot of venues here in the city,” Walsh said. Planners “have identified more than one possible location for many of the venues. There is going to be a lot of opportunity for the community to say, ‘I like this idea, I don’t like that idea.’ ”

The move to bring the Olympics to Boston has drawn sharp criticism. An opposition group, No Boston Olympics, has already organized to campaign against any bid.

But Walsh said Bostonians seem to him open-minded, and curious about the details. “I hear it from a lot people,” the mayor said. “There is piquing interest out there, I’ll tell you that.”

RELATED: Shaughnessy: Just Say No to a Boston Olympics


Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark