Residents of Dorchester on Tuesday night dueled over the risks and opportunities of Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Games in a spirited public meeting that drew passionate partisans on both sides of the debate, and raised questions about how an Olympic village at UMass Boston could affect the neighborhood.
“We’ve got a chance to showcase Boston,” said Tom Ward, of Savin Hill. “This is a no-brainer to me, to bring the Olympics here.”
Pat Rackowski, on the other hand, said the Games represent the exact opposite of sustainable development. “It’s a massive waste of money,” she said. “It’s so 20th century.”
The gathering at the Cleveland Community Center was part of a series of community meetings around the city organized by Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
The meeting drew about 100 people, many of whom identified themselves as Dorchester residents. About a dozen supporters of the Games held signs saying “I believe in Boston 2024.” A few opponents held signs calling for better public transit and no Boston Olympics. The crowd seemed closely divided between supporters and opponents.
The bid committee’s presentation was led by Richard A. Davey, chief executive of Boston 2024, the private group developing the bid, and John Fitzgerald, the mayor’s Olympic liaison. Earlier community meetings focused on sports venue plans, but in Tuesday’s presentation, Davey and Fitzgerald spoke primarily about the potential benefits of the Olympics for transportation, housing, job creation, and other areas.
Several opponents raised the concern that the Games would lead to evictions and gentrification that would price low-income residents out of their neighborhoods.
The debate continues through what is a critical time for the city’s Olympic effort. Boston 2024 is in the midst of a leadership change after a tumultuous five months. Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca would take over the chairmanship of the committee from Suffolk Construction chief John Fish, under a shakeup reported by the Globe on May 10. Boston 2024 has not officially announced the change.
The group is also under pressure from Governor Charlie Baker and others to release an updated sports venue plan for the Games, which the bid committee has pledged to make public next month. The updated plan is expected to provide financial and technical details on how the committee would finance and build the two most difficult venues: an Olympic stadium, which is planned for Widett Circle, and an athletes’ village, which would be at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Public polling on the Olympic bid suggests support has increased from a winter low that coincided with record snow that overwhelmed the MBTA, stranding passengers and disrupting the daily commute for thousands of people. However, a United States Olympic Committee official, Angela Ruggiero, suggested to city councilors on Monday that more support is needed, or there would be “no guarantee Boston will be the city in September.”
The USOC faces a September deadline to formally nominate Boston to host the 2024 Games. Earlier this spring, the USOC adamantly denied an anonymously sourced report published in the Wall Street Journal that officials had spoken with Los Angeles and San Francisco about reviving earlier bids if support did not increase in Boston.
Walsh said he has been assured that the USOC is committed to Boston, but the mayor agreed public support needs to be higher.
“You need public support to move forward on the bid,” Walsh said Tuesday. “A case has to be made to the people of Boston why the Olympics are a good thing for the city. I don’t think we can ask people to rally around an Olympic movement [with] unanswered questions.”
Walsh said he remained confident in Boston’s ability to host the Olympics.
“We can put on one of the best Games in the history of the Olympic movement,” Walsh said. “The question around the Olympics is around the cost and around the venues. That’s where we are. If we can get that information out to the public and the public can understand and feel comfortable, we’ll be in better shape.’’
The International Olympic Committee will choose the 2024 host at a meeting in Peru in 2017.