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Smaller Mass. cities clamor for a slice of Olympic glory

Fall River, Holyoke, Worcester among those seeking events

Springfield officials point to history in hopes of grabbing Olympic basketball: The Basketball Hall of Fame is located there, where the sport was invented in 1891.Nancy Palmieri/Associated Press/Associated Press

Worcester’s mayor envisions elite rowers from around the world racing on Lake Quinsigamond, thrusting the state’s humble second city into the international spotlight.

Not so fast, says the president of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce. He says South Watuppa Pond near the Rhode Island border would be the ideal venue for Olympic crews to compete for the gold.

Not to be outdone, Holyoke’s mayor wants his own piece of the action in Western Massachusetts. In his State of the City speech last month, he pitched Holyoke as the perfect host for Olympic volleyball, noting that the sport was invented there in 1895.


Originally conceived as the most compact, walkable Games in modern history, the Boston Olympics are now being pulled in every direction by local power brokers who want to share in the glory and reap what they see as the economic benefits of the Games.

Mayors and business leaders from the Berkshires to Cape Cod are pushing planners of the Boston Olympics to ship events to their areas, honing sales pitches that add another layer of political pressure and logistical challenges to the city’s bid.

“We’re looking at the Olympics as a regional and a state effort,” said Robert Mellion, president of the Fall River Chamber, who has also lobbied to bring sailing to Buzzards Bay or Newport, R.I. “If Boston gets the Olympics, everybody in New England wins. That’s our viewpoint.”

The local campaigns to lure Olympic action far from Boston began months ago but are expected to intensify as Boston 2024, the group promoting the Games, launches the next phase of its bid: holding 20 community meetings across the state over the next 20 weeks.

The ideas range from moving Olympic cycling to Cape Ann — “beautiful byways and roadways that are quite free of traffic,” said Linda Dean Campbell, a local state representative — to relocating sailing and beach volleyball to the Cape. “We think we have the perfect venue for that,” said Wendy Northcross, chief executive of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.


Worcester’s mayor envisions elite rowers from around the world racing on Lake Quinsigamond. Pictured: A high school crew on the lake in Shrewsbury in 2007.Bill Polo/Globe Staff/File 2007/Boston Globe

Not in the eyes of New Bedford’s mayor, Jon Mitchell, who declared that he wants Olympic sailing — currently planned for Boston Harbor — moved to his city. “New Bedford is the ultimate city by the sea,” he said at a City Hall press conference, where an aide held an oversized copy of Yachting Magazine that proclaimed New Bedford one of the “50 Best Ports in North America.”

Richard A. Davey, chief executive of Boston 2024, said that while his group has pledged a walkable Olympics, he is pleased the bid has generated such widespread interest across the state. “It’s a good problem to have,” he said.

Davey said the prospects are strong for early round volleyball in Holyoke and basketball in Springfield because those cities were the birthplaces of those sports.

However, not every hamlet and hill town can host an Olympic event. Davey said those that don’t could still offer practice facilities or house teams that arrive early to train.

“Certainly, we focus on the venues today,” he said, “but there’s a whole other, significant effort that we need to involve every corner of Massachusetts in.”

Moving Olympic volleyball from its planned venue at the South Boston Convention Center to Holyoke has been a priority of Mayor Alex Morse, whose long-struggling city is not only the birthplace of the sport but home to the Volleyball Hall of Fame.


“The economic opportunity from hosting those matches goes without saying,” he declared in his State of the City speech last month.

Springfield officials also point to history in hopes of grabbing Olympic basketball. The Basketball Hall of Fame is located in Springfield, where the sport was invented in 1891. If Olympic planners are still not sold, Mayor Domenic Sarno said Springfield boasts “beautiful scenic views with mountains and valleys, and water sports could be a possibility here, too.”

The competition for rowing is shaping up to be the fiercest contest. The Charles River, which would seem the natural first choice, has already been ruled out because it has too many bridges and turns to allow six boats to race side by side. So Boston 2024 plans to hold the races on the Merrimack River in Lowell.

But Mellion, from the Fall River Chamber, has warned that the current on the Merrimack could violate international rowing rules. He said South Watuppa Pond has flat water and more than enough room for a 2,000-meter course and grandstands.

“The Merrimack River is not going to work,” he said.

Worcester’s mayor, Joseph Petty, is pushing Lake Quinsigamond, pointing out that it already hosts major collegiate and prep school races.

“The rowing community really believes that’s the right site,” he said. “It’s been a very successful venue, and I don’t think you would have to put the same amount of money into it as you would have to put into other places in Massachusetts to meet the qualifications.”


Senator Eileen Donoghue of Lowell dismisses those claims. She said the Merrimack River could be dammed to stop the current and has open land on either side, which would allow spectators to line the entire course.

“The vistas are magnificent,” she said. “And the Merrimack is an ideal location.”

Jon Chesto of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.