Boston can’t be a place where good ideas go to die. With Friday’s announcement by Grand Prix of Boston that they are leaving town, however, that’s exactly the reputation we have earned.
The IndyCar race, which was scheduled for Labor Day, is just the latest in a string of failed initiatives. In 1996, Robert Kraft’s proposal to build a new stadium on the South Boston waterfront was outright rejected by the then mayor, Thomas Menino. In 2010, organizers for the NHL Winter Classic held in Fenway Park vowed to never return after a nightmare of regulatory overreach — and they didn’t, choosing Foxborough in 2016. Last year, of course, the 2024 Summer Olympics pulled out of Boston after dizzying opposition from residents. And now this.
Even with political support, the car race was doomed from the start. Mayor Walsh — who recently said, “We just love to pound things into the ground here’’ — put his political capital behind the event, as he did the Olympics. Again, opponents flocked.
The pattern is now familiar: An idea gets floated. A group forms against the idea. A website is created, in this case www.noindycarboston.org. And the idea dies.
It didn’t hurt that the IndyCar permitting exercise involved an outrageous number of city and state agencies and departments — by my count 18 — each requiring sign-off for the event. The particular area that organizers chose for the race track couldn’t have been more complicated from an ownership perspective. Their route not only traversed privately owned land but also land owned by the City of Boston, Massport, the Convention Center, the Turnpike, and the United States Postal Service. It also crossed live railroad tracks.
The turf wars that prevent the Boston Police Department from patrolling restaurants along the Seaport because they sit on state-owned land is the very buzz saw that Grand Prix of Boston ran into. Too many fiefdoms became its undoing.
Boston really is trying to shed the image of “no.” In February, Fenway Park hosted a 140-foot snow ramp for a freestyle ski and snowboard competition. Just last week Adidas announced an outdoor event with sprints, hurdles, and pole vaults on Charles Street between the Boston Common and Public Garden (Disclosure: my law firm is representing the event’s organizers).
The Walsh administration’s decision to pursue these events — including the Olympics — is the right instinct. It should continue.
But the complicated web of laws that ensnare and stifle the process to accomplish something here must be untangled and streamlined. State and city lawmakers should use this, and other failed initiatives, as an impetus for reform.
So, too, must neighborhood groups start learning how to say “yes.”
On Friday, the lead organizer against the IndyCar race, Larry Bishoff, celebrated, telling the Boston Globe, “The people of Boston . . . will be able to live their lives without the disruption this race portended.”
The bigger risk to Boston is not a race that will occur over Labor Day Weekend when many Bostonians are away at the beach. It is, instead, the message we send to the outside world that their ideas are not welcome here.
Mike Ross is a former Boston city councilor and attorney. He writes regularly for the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @mikeforboston.