The original plan — as in Bid 1.0 — was to build a temporary Olympic aquatics complex on the site of the former Beacon Park rail yards down by the Charles. All it would have taken was straightening out the Mass. Pike for $260 million, building a new West Station for $25 million, and persuading Harvard, which owns the acreage, to defer its development plans for another nine years.
On second thought . . .
When the Boston 2024 committee unveiled its 2.0 version Monday, half of its first-thought venues, from archery to wrestling, had been shifted elsewhere. A bunch of others, including aquatics, track cycling, mountain biking, and golf, still were TBD, as were the sites for the preliminary basketball and soccer matches.
This is what happens when Olympic renderings run up against realities.
Tokyo, which will host the 2020 Summer Games, is still moving venues around. Its proposed stadium, whose price tag is $2 billion and rising, has turned from fantasy into nightmare. If Boston does get the nod for 2024 when the International Olympic Committee votes two summers from now, you can bet that the wrangling over the temporary stadium penciled in for Widett Circle, as well as the new from-the-ground-up neighborhood that will rise in its place, will make the Big Dig debate look like a social tea.
That’s one worry that Paris, the Hub’s main rival for the Games, doesn’t have. The Stade de France, which has been up and running since 1998, already has staged the world outdoor track and field championships and a World Cup soccer final. It also has a Metro stop right next door, as do many of the City of Light’s proposed venues.
Boston still is in the early stages of the eternal five-ringed back-and-forth between existing and new facilities, between permanent and temporary, between legacies and white elephants. The rejiggering of the venue map is unavoidable when the buildings and the land belong to someone else, especially when the bidders have taken a blood vow that they won’t need a penny of public money for them.
Other than the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, which has been a revolving door of additions and deletions, the campus sites have had the most rearrangement. Harvard, which had been penciled in for seven sports (swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, tennis, field hockey, and fencing) now is down to the one (archery) that originally had been slotted for the riverside greensward in front of MIT’s dome.
Boston College, which wasn’t a primary site for anything in the 1.0 version, picked up field hockey, which would be held at Alumni Stadium. Judo and wrestling, which had been slated for the BCEC, moved to Conte Forum. Boston University, which kept badminton at Agganis Arena, gave up handball to Worcester’s DCU Center and added rhythmic gymnastics from the BCEC. Northeastern’s Matthews Arena inherited weightlifting from the waterfront Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. And UMass-Lowell’s Tsongas Center, which swapped boxing to the BCEC for taekwondo, ended up with fencing as well.
These were the relatively simple switches. The difficult ones involve the big-ticket facilities, like the natatorium and velodrome that are expensive to maintain after the Games. The easy solution is to do what Los Angeles did in 1984: build them and give them away.
USC got the pool (which was built by McDonald’s) and Cal State-Dominguez Hills got the cycling track that 7-Eleven underwrote. Atlanta gave its aquatics facility to Georgia Tech and sold its temporary velodrome to Disney.
Boston has a willing aquatics partner in Tufts, which would love to replace its ancient pool and could raise the cash to split the cost. And if the bidders are going to tear down the stadium anyway, why not put a temporary velodrome next door and sell it to the French?
What’s certain — and unfortunate if you’re a local hoops fan — is that the basketball prelims won’t be in Greater Boston. It’s highly unusual that the men’s and women’s games aren’t played somewhere in the host city, if not in the main arena, but TD Garden will be jammed with gymnasts for the fortnight and can host only the basketball medal matches.
If the DCU Center, Conte, Agganis, and Matthews weren’t already hosting other sports, they’d be suitable roundball sites. Instead Boston 2024 says that the prelims for both basketball and soccer will be held in the Northeast corridor, which committee chair (and Celtics co-owner) Steve Pagliuca considers regional “in a big sense.” For Bostonians, of course, the Northeast begins in Gloucester and ends in Plymouth.
Pagliuca wouldn’t specify whether big-sense regional extends to Springfield or New York or as far south as Miami. What the Boston 2024 folks have learned the hard way is that going public with potential venue sites before you’ve done the required political spade work tends to provoke an uproar and lousy poll numbers. So they made a point of saying that there’ll be a 2.1 version and a 2.2 and possibly more after that.
That’s why David Manfredi gave the venue briefing at Monday’s public session at the BCEC. He’s an architect, and he knows all about drawing boards and how you’re always going back — and back and back — to them.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.