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Latest Olympic plan leaves media without a home

“We feel like there’s a solution that hasn’t presented itself,” said Richard A. Davey, chief executive of Boston 2024, of not knowing where to put a media center.
“We feel like there’s a solution that hasn’t presented itself,” said Richard A. Davey, chief executive of Boston 2024, of not knowing where to put a media center.Stephan Savoia/Associated Press/File

At 1 million square feet, it would be larger than Fenway Park and the TD Garden.

If history is any guide, it would feature a McDonald’s, grocery store, bank, dry cleaners, souvenir shop, and first aid station, as well as row after row of cubicles and television studios for 20,000 journalists and broadcast personnel from across the world.

The media center is one of the biggest and most critical venues required to host the Olympics, a teeming 24-hour hive that beams the Games to more than 3 billion viewers worldwide. But there’s just one problem for local Olympic organizers: they don’t know where they can put it.

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“We feel like there’s a solution that hasn’t presented itself,” Richard A. Davey, chief executive of Boston 2024, said somewhat elliptically.

In its initial bid in January, Boston 2024 budgeted $500 million for a private developer to build the mammoth center next to the South Boston Convention Center and then turn it into biotech offices after the Olympics.

But after neighborhood opposition, Boston 2024 scrapped the proposal and, in its revised bid released last month, did not identify a location for the center and slashed the cost to $50 million, a fraction of the price tag for media centers at past Olympics.

Davey said the current plan is to use the money to rent 1 million square feet in separate buildings. Options include the Hynes Convention Center, which provides about 200,000 square feet, as well as vacant buildings further afield.

“If we could find space in an office park or a large warehouse outside of Boston, in some respects that’s even more desirable because it’s more of a private space that the media can use that is not interrupted by traffic and spectators,” Davey said.

But a remote location may not sit well with veteran Olympic reporters accustomed to walking to the Olympic Stadium or the aquatics center, then walking back to file their stories.

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“The pattern has been to have the media center right next to the most important venues,” said Phil Hersh, a sports writer at the Chicago Tribune who has covered the last 17 Olympic Games. “I can’t imagine working in an office park in Hingham. I don’t think that’s going to fly.”

A press center outside Boston could force thousands of journalists into buses, clogging roadways, Hersh said, and make it less likely that athletes would come to the center for press conferences after they win medals, a tradition at past Olympics.

“It’s very inconvenient for everybody,” he said.

When New York bid for the 2012 Games, it proposed building a 41-story tower for the broadcast media near the Olympic Stadium on Manhattan’s West Side and housing print reporters on two levels of the nearby Javits Convention Center.

Chicago had an easier option when it bid for the 2016 Games. The city planned to put broadcast and print media in McCormick Place, a 2-million-square-foot exhibition center that would have also been home to 11 Olympic events.

“From this central location, the media will be able to take advantage of all the attractions and amenities of downtown Chicago, ensuring a spectacular Games experience as well,” Chicago’s Olympic Committee boasted in its bid book.

Rafael Mares, a lawyer at the Conservation Law Foundation, said if Boston 2024’s $50 million price tag proves too low, taxpayers could be left to pick up the cost. The hulking structures, he pointed out, have not been inexpensive when built for previous Games.

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Beijing spent about $380 million to build a 1.5-million-square-foot International Broadcast Center and 680,000-square-foot Main Press Center for the 2008 Olympics. London spent about $545 million for its vast press hub for the 2012 Games. And Rio de Janeiro has budgeted at least $200 million for its giant media center for the 2016 Games.

“I remain concerned that financial pressures in the future related to this item will lead to crowding out public infrastructure plans because a media center is required for the Olympics,” Mares said.

Boston 2024 has said insurance and a projected surplus in its budget will protect taxpayers from cost overruns. Bid organizers also hope to save money and find space more easily, if the International Olympic Committee lowers its requirement that the media center be 1 million square feet.

London used only 600,000 square feet at its media center, Davey said, and he predicted the media may need only 350,000 square feet by 2024, as broadcast technology improves and more reporters work with wireless connections.

“While our planning aligns with current requirements, we expect over time we will need less space than previous Games due to technological advances and changes in the media landscape,” said Erin Murphy, chief operating officer of Boston 2024. “We’ll continue to learn from other host cities and plan accordingly as our bid process evolves.”

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Despite grumbling about a longer commute, some journalists said they would be able to work in an office park outside the city.

It may not be ideal, but “if it’s a well-suited and well-set-up space, I think it’s doable,” said Robert Livingstone, a producer at GamesBids.com, who has covered three Olympics.

NBC, which has exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States, declined to comment.

But Tom Feuer, a former NBC producer who has covered 10 Olympics, said the network could operate easily from a remote center. He said “Today” could use a small set near the Olympic Stadium in South Boston, while Bob Costas would lead the prime-time show from a main studio in the suburbs. Broadcasting live from Burlington? It could happen.

“As long as Boston has the space and the information superhighway stuff, like lines and cables and everything like that, you’re to be just fine,” he said. “You just need a huge amount of space — that’s the biggest thing.”


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