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Walsh vows to protect Boston’s interests in Olympic bid

Concerns aired at community meeting

Backers and opponents packed the first forum on the Games’ bid, held at Suffolk Law School.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and planners for a potential 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Boston heard area residents’ concerns about financing, infrastructure, transportation, and security on Thursday at the first community meeting on the massive proposal.

More than 300 people — including elected officials, prominent activists, and leaders in business and the nonprofit sector — packed a first-floor meeting room at the Suffolk University Law School to discuss the endeavor, while more watched via video from a spillover room upstairs.

Walsh told the assembly he would ensure that Boston would neither spend public money on facilities that do not benefit city residents nor be left with the bill on potential cost overruns that could run into the billions of dollars.


“We’re not going to mortgage the future of the city away,” the mayor said. “If taxpayers’ money goes into this, it would go into the infrastructure.”

The US Olympic Committee announced its selection of Boston last month to represent the United States in an international competition to host the 2024 Summer Games. Other potential bidders include Berlin, Paris, and Rome. The 102-member International Olympic Committee will select the 2024 host in 2017.

While there was support for the Games at Thursday’s meeting, many residents voiced strong objections. “What will it take to stop this?” asked one South End resident. “If in a referendum, Bostonians vote to say no to this, would it stop it?”

On Monday, City Councilor Josh Zakim proposed putting Boston’s hosting bid to a citywide vote through four nonbinding questions on this November’s ballot.

Walsh has previously said he opposes such a referendum. On Thursday night he said the impact of such a vote would depend on whether the referendum were binding.

“If it’s a binding referendum and the voters say no, it’s binding and it’s done,” Walsh said. “If it’s not binding, that’s a different story.”


Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey (left) answered a question. He was seated next to Boston 2024 chairman John Fish.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Evan Falchuk, an unsuccessful 2014 gubernatorial candidate who launched the United Independent Party, has thrown the fledgling political party’s support behind a proposal for a statewide referendum on the Olympics.

Several residents at the meeting expressed concerns about the transparency of the process and the absence of opponents of the proposal on the speakers’ panel.

“It seems to me that you’re pushing it right down our throats,” Back Bay resident Carolyn Arrington, 67, said of the plan.

Walsh said he was set to meet with opponents at City Hall on Friday, and his liaison told the crowd that participation by opponents was possible at future meetings.

A teacher in the Boston public schools asked Walsh about the gag order in the agreement he signed with Olympic organizers, forbidding public employees to oppose the bid. “I believe in free speech and certainly that language in the document will be fixed,” Walsh said.

Other issues raised Thursday night included the Games’ potential impact on housing and education.

John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024 and chief executive of Suffolk Construction, said the public process provides an opportunity to consider the city’s goals for 2030, 2040, 2050, and beyond. He said he does not expect hosting the Games to benefit baby boomers like himself.

“It will be the next generation and the generation after that,” Fish said.

Fish also said the bid is currently “at a proof of concept phase” and includes no final decisions on venues and transportation.


However he said it could include not just athletic facilities in Greater Boston but in other major cities, including Wrigley Field in Chicago and the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey, making it “America’s Games.”

Temporary housing for athletes at a proposed Olympic village adjacent to the University of Massachusetts Boston would be modular and portable, and could be reused as affordable housing elsewhere in the city, according to David Manfredi, the architect for Boston 2024.

The head of the IOC, Thomas Bach of Germany, told reporters on Saturday that Boston’s history and reputation as a center of higher education offer “great potential” to build a compelling narrative to support the city’s Olympic bid.

Bach said the public debate within Greater Boston should not hurt the city’s chances of hosting.

But questions about the city’s ability to accommodate and transport thousands of visitors have increased in recent days, as area residents faced rampant delays on the MBTA and snarled traffic on city streets following successive snowstorms.

Thursday’s public meeting was the first of nine scheduled through September.

Somerville resident Claire Blechman handed out signs before the start of the community meeting.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.