fb-pixelBoston 2024 organizers face tough sell in South Boston - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Boston 2024 organizers face tough sell in South Boston

If the Games come to Boston, Southie will see many changes. But local support is far from assured.

Ottavio LoGrasso of Ottavio’s Barber Shop in South Boston said if the Olympics come to town, “haircuts are going to be $40!”Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

After listening to a city official describe Boston's effort to host the 2024 Olympics, about 70 members of the City Point Neighborhood Association in South Boston took an informal poll: By a show of hands, how many in the room support the bid?

"Not one person put their hand up in favor of it," said Joanne McDevitt, the association president, recalling the March meeting.

Things did not go much better when the city officials pitched the Olympics to the Fort Point Neighborhood Association, on the other end of South Boston.

"What I see here is eight years of trucks, noise, impossible parking, security," said one resident, Marc Miller, before stalking out of the meeting. "I see the rest of my life going to hell because of this."


As Olympic organizers seek to persuade Bostonians to back the Games ahead of a planned referendum, they may have no tougher sell than in South Boston, the politically potent neighborhood that has a long history of fighting changes imposed by outsiders.

No other neighborhood would be as directly affected. The plan calls for the three largest facilities — the temporary Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Village, and the International Broadcast Center — to be constructed along South Boston's borders.

Many residents, fed up with traffic and rapid development in recent years, say they do not see how the additional construction projects will improve their quality of life. They also say the lack of details provided by Boston 2024 makes it hard for them to back the bid.

"The neighborhood's changed a lot, and this is just going to make it more difficult, and more expensive," said Peter Golden, a South Boston native, who was waiting for a trim at Ottavio's Barber Shop on West Broadway.

"Haircuts are going to be $40!" said Ottavio LoGrasso, the barber there for 35 years.


“The neighborhood’s changed a lot, and this is just going to make it more difficult, and more expensive.” said South Boston native Peter Golden.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Unlike past Southie development fights, however, there is no neighborhood political leader giving voice to the local opposition. As some residents ruefully point out, there is no Councilor James M. Kelly or Senate President William M. Bulger railing against incursions onto the neighborhood turf by the power elite at Boston 2024.

Instead, South Boston's elected officials have been supportive of, or at least open to, the argument made by Boston 2024 that the Olympic stadium and village could spark construction of housing and improve parks and streets.

"Boston 2024 has produced some pretty impressive concepts," said Nick Collins, South Boston's state representative. "Getting there is obviously a challenge. But I don't think there's any reason we can't think big."

Such sentiments are a far cry from the late 1990s, when neighborhood officials, warning of intolerable traffic and rowdy tailgaters, waged a fierce fight to stop Governor William F. Weld and Robert Kraft from building a stadium for the New England Patriots on the South Boston waterfront.

"'I surrender!'" Kelly once recalled Kraft saying when he decided to scrap the stadium plan. "'You guys are just too much for me to deal with.'"

Robert J. Allison, a Suffolk University history professor who lives in South Boston, said the absence of such staunch opposition to the Olympics might have to do with the long list of Democratic heavyweights supporting the bid.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who built a major base of support in South Boston, is enthusiastically backing the effort. The leaders of Boston 2024 include former members of the Patrick and Walsh administrations. And the group is paying a veteran South Boston Democrat, former state senator John A. Hart Jr, $10,000 a month to lobby for the bid.


"The political leaders are cautious," Allison said. "No one wants, if this turns out to be the greatest thing that ever happened, to say, 'This is going to be a bad idea' at the outset."

While they can be hard to find on the streets of Southie, some residents look forward to the potential benefits of the Olympics.

They point out that Boston 2024 has promised to renovate a desolate stretch of Dorchester Avenue into a walkable "Olympic Boulevard" fit for thousands of international spectators. Olympic organizers also say the stadium will pave the way for new housing and businesses, turning the industrial sprawl of Widett Circle into a lively residential area that Boston 2024 has optimistically dubbed "Midtown."

”There seems to be a very real possibility in our neck of the woods for a lot of improvement,” said Bill Gleason, president of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2009/Globe Staff

"There seems to be a very real possibility in our neck of the woods for a lot of improvement," said Bill Gleason, a 47-year-old hospital worker whose condo overlooks Widett Circle and boasts, in his words, "views of a public works yard and a big salt pile."

"I'm not afraid of that being transformed into something more useful and more attractive," said Gleason, who is also president of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association. The group, which has "more of a downtown mindset," than other neighborhood associations, is largely supportive of the Olympic bid, he said.


At Doughboy Donuts and Deli on Dorchester Avenue, John DeBenedictis, a 58-year-old union construction worker, said he, too, is excited about the bid. "It's a good thing for employment, and it comes with some pride in the city." Plus, he said, just having the world's greatest athletes descend on Southie would be "entertaining as hell."

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.