fb-pixel Skip to main content

The original question was hypothetical. If Boston were to be chosen as the American candidate to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, would your athletic facilities be available? Yes, replied the area’s universities.

Now that the city has received the go-ahead from the United States Olympic Committee, the conversations and negotiations with UMass-Boston, Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, and UMass-Lowell soon will begin in earnest.

“We want them to be fully aware of what the impact is,” said Doug Arnot, the USOC’s adviser to the Boston bid committee. “When we take the next step on this there can’t be any information withheld.”

Advertisement



What the universities will need to know is how early and for how long they’ll have to turn over their facilities, how much they’ll be compensated for their use, and how much Olympic security, with its fences and checkpoints and guards, will restrict access and movement.

“Campuses are designed to be open venues,” said BU spokesman Steve Burgay. “How do you balance the open nature of a campus with the closed nature of an Olympic venue?”

The “university cluster” is at the core of the Boston bid, with campus sites proposed for nearly a third of the three dozen sports, as well as for athlete and media housing. UMass-Boston would be the location of the Olympic village. BU’s Agganis Arena would stage the badminton competition and its student dorms would be used for media, as would Northeastern’s West Village. BC’s Conte Forum would be the women’s basketball venue, while MIT’s Briggs Field could be utilized for archery. UMass-Lowell’s Tsongas Center would host the boxing competition.

The centerpiece is Harvard, which has been tapped for seven sports — swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, field hockey, tennis, and fencing. “Harvard has more space than the others have,” Arnot said.

Advertisement



The aquatics events would be held in temporary facilities on university-owned land at the former Beacon Park rail yards. The rest would be spread around the sprawling Soldiers Field complex where most of Harvard’s athletic facilities are grouped.

Harvard Stadium, which was used for Olympic soccer matches in 1984, would be the field hockey site. The Gordon Indoor Track would be employed for fencing, while a temporary tennis locale would be erected along the Charles River.

With the accompanying warm-up areas, dressing rooms, doping control setup, media subcenter, and lounges, virtually the entire complex would be taken up for the summer, with the Olympics and subsequent Paralympics scheduled between July 19 and Aug. 25. During that time Harvard’s coaches customarily run sports camps that occupy the same buildings and grounds. Students, faculty, employees, graduates, and summer school students also use the facilities for recreation.

While the university is open to the idea of staging a significant portion of the Games, its involvement is nowhere near certain. “While we were happy to be part of the preliminary conversations regarding the possible use of certain sites for the 2024 Olympics, Harvard has made no decisions and given no commitments regarding the possible use of any specific venues,” stated spokesman Jeff Neal, who said that he was speaking on behalf of executive vice president Katie Lapp. “It was understood that these initial ideas were concepts. As we move into the next phase of focus, President [Drew] Faust has made clear that, while we are happy to discuss ways in which our involvement might contribute to this effort, any participation by Harvard must remain aligned with our academic mission and long-term planning goals.”

Advertisement



University involvement, which was one of the bid committee’s key selling points, is vital to a plan that emphasizes the use of existing or temporary facilities that are close to public transportation. Now that Boston is the official candidate, talks with the bid committee are intensifying.

“Conversations are ongoing with Boston 2024 as well as on our campus and we are still in the very early stages,” said Israel Ruiz, MIT’s executive vice president and treasurer.

For all of the local universities, the central question is whether the benefits of hosting Olympic events outweigh the inconvenience of giving up facilities for months and rearranging schedules.

“We want to talk to the colleges about the opportunities this presents for them,” said Arnot.

Atlanta and Los Angeles, the last two US cities to stage the Summer Olympics, relied heavily upon local educational institutions. The 1984 Games used dormitories at USC and UCLA for the Olympic villages, and sports ranging from gymnastics to tennis to field hockey to weightlifting were held at campus facilities at those and a half-dozen other colleges. In return, USC got to keep the outdoor swimming pool built by McDonald’s, while California State-Dominguez Hills received the cycling velodrome paid for by 7-Eleven.

In 1996, the Atlanta organizers recruited a half-dozen universities to provide venues. Georgia Tech, whose dorms were used as the main Olympic village, got more than $240 million in new housing, nearly $50 million of it paid for by the organizing committee, and was given the $20 million aquatics complex for a recreation center. Morris Brown and Clark Atlanta, which provided the field hockey venues, inherited new stadiums.

Advertisement



“The colleges’ first reaction tends to be NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard],” Arnot said. “The next reaction is, ‘What do I get?’ ”

The biggest university beneficiaries of a Boston Games could be UMass-Boston, which would keep 6,000 of the Olympic village’s 16,500 beds for student housing, and Tufts, which is being considered as a backup site for the aquatics events. Its ancient and undersized pool, which is nearly seven decades old, would be replaced with a 10-lane, 50-meter facility with the cost probably being shared by the organizing committee and university donors.

“We have been working on fund-raising and design for a new pool for quite some time,” said Matt Malone, the university’s director of facilities, fields, and game management. “Tufts is hoping to use the Olympics as a springboard to more serious discussions. We don’t have a set time frame but a new pool is definitely at the top of our list for future projects.”

The bid committee’s initial query about venue availability stressed its conditional nature since the USOC didn’t decide until December whether it would nominate a candidate for 2024. “They were careful to say their plans were just tentative and subject to change,” said Burgay.

Advertisement



Since the IOC’s application deadline is next January, there’s ample time for the bid committee and the universities to work out details. “We’re happy to talk to the mayor and the Olympic committee to see how we might be of help in the planning,” said BC spokesman Jack Dunn.

Conte Forum, the 8,600-seat arena where BC’s basketball teams play, could be used for the Olympic women’s tournament and the impact on the neighborhood would be less onerous than a Saturday football game that draws nearly 45,000 fans to adjacent Alumni Stadium.

“We would not anticipate that it would be a problem,” said Dunn.

BU’s Agganis Arena, which is used for hockey and basketball, would be available during the summer and enough dorm space could be arranged to accommodate media housing. “The dorms do fill up to some extent, but there is some capacity during the summer months,” said Burgay. “We have enough flexibility in the housing system that we could at least entertain the possibility.”

For almost all of its proposed Olympic venues, including the college facilities, the bid committee submitted backup options when it made its winning pitch to the USOC last month.

“Boston has a very good initial concept that we will continue to massage,” said Arnot. “There will be several iterations and, in some cases, that will mean moving some of the chess pieces.”


John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.