Compact Boston may have Olympic advantage

Close array of venues a contrast with rivals’ spread-out plans

Harvard Stadium is one of the historic Boston venues that could be used in a Summer Olympics.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File
Harvard Stadium is one of the historic Boston venues that could be used in a Summer Olympics.

The 2024 Summer Olympics may be a decade away, but in just four months the US Olympic Committee probably will decide whether to enter a US city in the international competition to host the event — and Boston has a potential edge in that race.

Boston is offering itself as a city with compact venues, and if the International Olympic Committee, meeting in Switzerland in December, decides that is what it wants, Boston is seen as a strong candidate. It would probably gain an advantage over its US competitors, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, whose plans offer less intimate settings.

“The city is the Olympic park,” said Dan O’Connell, president of the Boston 2024 Partnership, the city’s potential bid committee. “It becomes a public-transit and walking Olympics.”


By contrast, Los Angeles would have five of its facilities in Long Beach, 25 miles to the south. Washington would use sites in Maryland and Virginia. San Francisco would spread its venues in a large loop around the Bay Area.

Get Sports Headlines in your inbox:
The most recent sports headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

While Suffolk Construction chief executive John Fish, who chairs the partnership, acknowledges that “theoretically we have a 25 percent chance as one of four cities,” he publicly has reckoned the city’s odds of being named the US entry as 75 percent based on the perceived reaction to Boston’s pitch to USOC officials.

“I’m not in this to lose,” Fish said. “I would never bet against myself.”

But even if Boston is selected, it is not clear that the city is ready to commit to staging the Games. The only first-time bidder among the four, it is still investigating the feasibility and availability of sites in the vicinity.

With potential host cities for the 2022 Winter Games scared off by the exorbitant $50 billion cost of this year’s event in Sochi, Russia, the IOC is expected to make things easier and cheaper for future cities. That could be done not only by having more compact venues, but also by favoring the use of temporary or existing facilities. That would help relieve cities of the burden of expensive “white elephants” destined to lie idle after the Olympics.


“I think we’ve gotten a lot more responsible in terms of the legacy aspect,” said Canada’s Dick Pound, one of the international committee’s most senior members. “We’re certainly far more willing to look at temporary venues than we were.”

If Boston were to use modular units for the Olympic village at the former Bayside Expo Center adjacent to UMass-Boston’s harbor campus, it could leave some behind as campus dormitories and move others elsewhere for worker housing.

The main stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field competition, whose location is uncertain, probably will be reduced from the customary 70,000 to 90,000 seats and could be downsized to 25,000 after the Games and used for a soccer facility. The natatorium, which ordinarily accommodates around 17,000, could be built with removable spectator stands, as was London’s two years ago.

London’s use of landmarks such as Hyde Park, Wimbledon, and Lord’s Cricket Ground would be echoed in Boston, which could use the Common for beach volleyball, the Back Bay and the riverside paths for the marathon, Franklin Park for equestrian events, Harvard Stadium for field hockey (or swimming with a temporary pool), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Killian Court fronting the Great Dome for archery.

“There are some iconic settings that Boston has that other cities won’t have,” said O’Connell.


Most of Boston’s offerings, like a college cluster involving Harvard, MIT, and Boston University, would be near the Charles River or around subway and trolley lines.

“University sites are first on our list of potential venues,” said O’Connell, whose partnership has been discussing options with the various presidents.

Boston’s layout would be a distinct departure from the previous half-dozen summer hosts, which built multiple facilities in one area to maximize convenience for athletes, spectators, and media as well as from the spread-out, regional plans of the other three US candidates for 2024.

Washington, which combined with Baltimore on a bid for the 2012 Games and was bypassed by the USOC in favor of New York, is putting more emphasis upon the nation’s capital this time, stressing its 175 embassies and 184 languages that are spoken there.

“We believe that the world can come here and feel at home,” said Russ Ramsey, who is chairing the D.C. 2024 group.

While the D.C. Games likely would use venues in northern Virginia and in Baltimore, Annapolis, and College Park, Md., the centerpiece probably would be Washington’s eastern section, where aging RFK Stadium could be replaced with a new facility that would later be home to the Redskins, who played at that location for 36 seasons before decamping for Landover, Md., in 1997.

That area also would be the site of an Olympic village that could be transformed into housing as part of the redevelopment of the Anacostia River district that is overdue for renewal.

“It would be like what London did with its East End,” said Ramsey.

San Francisco, which also lost out to New York in 2012 and halted its 2016 bid when the 49ers decided to leave for a new stadium in Santa Clara, likely will present an updated version of the “Ring of Gold” that encompassed four clusters around the Bay: San Francisco, Oakland/Berkeley, San Jose/Santa Clara, and Palo Alto.

Once again the challenge would be where to build a stadium and a nearby Olympic village. The best option might be the Bayview-Hunters Point area southeast of San Francisco, which could use affordable housing and where a new stadium could replace ancient and unused Candlestick Park.

The drawback to a Bay Area bid would be the same as last time, when USOC members said that the venues were too spread out among too many civic jurisdictions and that they preferred New York’s “one government, one stop, one solution” plan pushed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Los Angeles, which staged the Games in 1932 and 1984, would be the obvious choice if the IOC wants a proven host with new or updated facilities. The LA plan, which is the most complete of the four, calls for a quartet of clusters: Downtown, Westside, Avalon, and Harbor.

While the mammoth (and renovated) Coliseum would be used for the third time, most of the 1984 venues would be replaced by newer facilities, most notably the Staples Center, an aquatics complex in Exposition Park, and a downtown Olympic village.

LA’s biggest barrier may be that the IOC members wouldn’t want to go there again. But since London was a third-time choice in 2012 and since four decades will have passed since Los Angeles last staged the Games, a return visit may seem less of a Hollywood remake.

LA, with its abundance of venues and extensive freeway network, would be the least complicated choice for the IOC. While Boston has an undeniable historic charm, its intimacy comes with a people-moving challenge within and around a congested city. Some transit improvements, such as an expanded South Station and an extended Green Line, are on the drawing board as part of the state Department of Transportation’s 21st-century plan.

Easing traffic on jammed roadways that will require dedicated Olympic lanes will be the most daunting task for Boston’s organizers, who would need companies in the area to encourage employees to take vacation during the July dates or allow them to work from home.

A modern transportation system for a 17th-century city would be the most enduring bequest of a 17-day Games.

“We’re talking about legacy,” said O’Connell. “It’s not worth doing if the Olympics are the be-all and end-all.”

With the city’s quadricentennial coming up in 2030, the possibility of hosting an Olympics in 2024 or 2028 would be a central topic of Boston’s debate about its evolution.

“Even if we don’t win at the IOC level,” said Fish, “this will be one of the most transformative events in our history.”

John Powers can be reached at