Boston 2024 adds up to an Olympic leap of faith
Update: The USOC announced on Jan. 8, 2015, it had selected Boston as its nominee for the 2024 Olympics.
The first official event of the 2024 Boston Olympics has been unveiled. It’s called leap of faith, and in true Olympic fashion, a giant one is required.
Here's the trade-off: Buy into the promise of Olympic glory and state-of-the-art infrastructure, minus any risk of financial over-exposure by the public — or be labeled a small-minded, provincial party-pooper, too stupid to understand why we have to build a velodrome to get affordable housing and trains that run on time without doors popping off.
So far, this PR offensive, propelled by old Boston's downtown business crowd, has worked wonders on much of the political establishment. "We have the support of six governors, from Dukakis to Baker," boasts Dan O'Connell, president of Boston 2024. Mayor Marty Walsh is also scheduled to be one of five presenters when Boston 2024 makes its oral case to the US Olympic Committee on Dec. 16.
Meanwhile, only an elite few know every detail of Boston's preliminary bid for the summer games, which was submitted by the Dec. 1 deadline. O'Connell said he has read "every word," but wouldn't say who else falls into that category.
What about Walsh? According to spokeswoman Kate Norton, the mayor is "very well-versed in the items proposed by Boston 2024 and was a co-signer on the bid."
If Walsh hasn't read every word — and it doesn't sound that way — he should, and so should every public official who is buying into this Olympic dream.
According to O'Connell, the preliminary bid states, yes, there are enough hotel rooms within a necessary radius; yes, Logan Airport can handle the massive influx of travelers; and yes, we have the capacity to move up to an extra half million people a day via public transit.
Those affirmative answers are due to "authorized upgrades to public transportation, the airport, and convention center" that are already "in the pipeline," according to O'Connell. However, being chosen as the host city "might be a catalyst to accelerate that expenditure." Also, 250,000 college students won't be in town over the summer of 2024, so presumably that leaves more breathing room on the T.
A key section of the six-part bid proposes 33 sporting venues, including many in Boston. Pressed for more public accountability, O'Connell is vowing to hold a hearing for each proposed site; if one neighborhood says no, a back-up will be picked.
But when I asked how a neighborhood's opposition would be determined — by a vote, for example, and by whom? — O'Connell replied, "I don't know. We will look to the elected officials."
In Boston, that would be Walsh, who has walked the line from early skeptic to official bid booster. Yet he's still insisting the train has not left the station — he just wants to see if he can get better trains and other infrastructure goodies out of the bidding process.
"These proposals are purely introductory, and we expect a robust public discussion with full community engagement before any decisions are made," said Norton. "The benefits that accompany even being considered for an Olympic bid can be significant and the mayor is more than open to exploring this as a real possibility."
The USOC is expected to announce its city selection decision sometime in January. If Boston is chosen, that leaves plenty of time to debate the fine points, according to the don't-worry, be-happy crowd of local boosters. Going public now isn't possible, said O'Connell, because no other city in the running has done so.
According to Boston 2024, only private money is being used during this phase of the bidding process. There's currently an $11 million budget, and according to O'Connell, more than $10 million has already been raised. The gap of about $800,000 is in the process of being filled, he said.
Did someone say leap of faith? If Boston wins this bid, there are bigger ones to come.