Would it be possible for everyone to take a deep breath, then exhale? Now, sit down and relax. Let’s talk about the Olympics and the city of Boston from the perspective of someone who has actually been to 11 of them.
I usually get at least a chuckle with my response to the question, “What do you think about the 2024 Olympics coming to Boston?” My standard reply is, “I think it’s a great abstract concept.” And I really do.
Memo to the shrill, shrieking opponents of Boston 2024: Having the Olympics in your town is a good thing. Cities come alive in ways they cannot possibly imagine. Exhibit A is London.
Opening Ceremonies for Summer Olympics take place on a Friday. Three years ago, I arrived in London on Monday of that week. All I read and heard was moaning and groaning about the burden of the Olympics. Most local citizens were either a) indifferent or b) skeptical, to say the absolute least. Then came Friday night and the Opening Ceremonies. The city — no, make that the entire country — was captivated. From that point on, London was hooked. What I kept reading was how gobsmacked the Brits were that they had fallen in love with the Olympics.
Boston would, too.
Of course, there are some rather important “yeah, buts.”
Putting on a successful Olympics requires billions of dollars. It requires a myriad of logistics. It requires working with the nefarious IOC. It requires a great deal of construction and a fair amount of disruption. It requires a 100 percent commitment on the part of the host city. It doesn’t just happen. People must figure out a way to bring it all together.
The problem with the Boston 2024 people is that they simply do not seem to know what they’re doing. There is no reason to believe anything they say because everything they say changes.
They say it won’t cost us a dime, but we know better. That’s just not the way it works around here. Big projects here mean funny things happen. Anyone remember UMass-Boston and McKee-Berger-Mansueto? Does the Big Dig ring a bell? Whatever they say it will cost, the actual cost will be several billion more, and we can be 99.999 percent sure that the taxpayers will get stuck in the end.
The money issue is a given. But there are other reasons to come away thinking that Boston 2024 is a complete Amateur Hour.
One of their great pitches in the beginning was that this would be a compact, walkable Olympics. After all, don’t we have TD Garden, two convention centers, UMass-Boston for the Athletes’ Village, Boston University’s Agganis Arena, Northeastern’s Matthews Arena, Harvard Stadium (plus other Harvard properties), Boston College’s Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum, a river, and a harbor? Goodness, gracious, that’s an embarrassment of sports venue riches.
But wait . . . Holyoke’s got its hand up. We deserve volleyball because it was invented here. Springfield has its hand up. Excuse us, but Dr. Naismith conceived of basketball right here in the Y. New Bedford has its hand up. Ahem, our harbor is better than yours. And so on. So much for the walkable Olympics.
The fiascos keep coming. That idea of having beach volleyball at the Common didn’t go over too well. Let’s go to Quincy. Wait a minute. There are environmental concerns in Quincy.
Oh, and the idea that Harvard was going to be a source of multiple venues turned out to be news to Harvard.
The latest fascinating revelation is that there were no concrete plans for either a Main Press Center or an International Broadcast Center. Please understand that the two most important items at any Summer Olympics are a stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and the media centers. Not to plan for the media centers is like building a house and saying you can get along without a kitchen and bedrooms.
That reminds me. Never before in the history of the Summer Games was there a proposal for a tear-down stadium. Interesting concept.
Other than these few items, the Boston 2024 folks have been right on top of things.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that the people in charge were actually able to accomplish what they say they can. Is Boston a good site for an Olympics?
Yes, it is. Absolutely. We would be a fabulous site. When not at an event people would have plenty to do. One vital aspect of any Olympics are gathering places, and we have them. We do have Boston Common and the Public Garden. We would have a spiffed-up waterfront. We would have City Hall Plaza. I can also envision the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, stretching from the Public Garden to Kenmore Square, with kiosks and musicians, replete with strolling visitors from all over the globe.
People would go away raving about Boston. The benefits would be enormous.
But so much would need to be done before any of that happens, and the people in charge cannot be trusted to do it. I fear that even if a benefactor handed them a check for $20 billion they would botch the job.
A Boston Olympics would work. Too bad it will remain an abstract concept.