2024 Olympics campaign begins

So far, long on promise, short on specifics

BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT leaders on Friday launched what appears to be a very sophisticated campaign to win support for Boston playing host to the Summer Olympics in 2024.

A day after the US Olympic Committee chose Boston as its 2024 candidate over Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, business and government officials met with local media at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on a blustery, winter day and laid out a sunny vision of the future. The vision was long on promise and potential and short on specifics. The goal seems to win support for the idea of hosting the Olympics before delving into details that could be divisive. The first priority is convincing people Boston is up to the challenge of hosting the Games before telling them how much it will cost.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who is suing the Massachusetts Gaming Commission because he believes Charlestown residents deserve the right to vote on whether they want to deal with the traffic caused by a casino next door in Everett, says he won’t seek a similar referendum for Boston residents on hosting the Olympics. “This is very different,” he said, adding that no referendum would be needed.

Walsh played master of ceremonies at Friday’s event, introducing the key players and answering most of the press questions. He said his administration will hold a series of nine meetings across Boston between January and September and answer every question posed. At the end of that process, he promised, Bostonians will be excited at the prospect of hosting the Olympics. “We’re going to have a very open and transparent process,” he said.

Officials said they can’t get into details now about the Boston bid because it’s more of a concept than a plan. Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the US Olympic Committee, said his organization wanted an informal bidding process to hold down costs. He also said the committee wanted the bidding cities to keep their plans confidential to avoid an escalating price war.

“Where we are now is at the concept stage,” said Larry Probst, the chairman of the US Olympic Committee. He said Boston was chosen because its bid was cost effective and its venue plan was very athlete-focused. As Boston and the US Olympic Committee begin to flesh out the concept for 2024, he said, more details would emerge.

John Fish, the CEO of Suffolk Construction and the mastermind of Boston’s Olympic bid, said the key to the city’s $4.5 billion Olympics initiative is its universities. He said 70 to 75 percent of the proposed Olympic venues would be located on university campuses and 28 of the 33 venues would be located within 10 kilometers (a little over 6 miles) of each other. He said three to four universities have already asked if they can build an Olympic venue and then own the facility after the Games are completed.

Fish said he is working with European companies on a proposal to construct a temporary Olympic Stadium at Widett Circle, which is located off the Southeast Expressway just south of downtown, on the opposite side of the highway from South Bay. He said the stadium would be built for the Olympics and then dismantled and moved somewhere else afterwards, leaving behind roughly 80 acres ready for development.

The construction executive said Gillette Stadium in Foxborough will feature in the city’s Olympics bid, but primarily for soccer games and practices. He said Gillette Stadium wouldn’t work as an Olympic Stadium because it is too far from where the athletes will be housed and most of the events will be held.

Fish and Walsh said repeatedly that public money will not be used to build venues or other Olympic facilities, but will instead go for transportation, infrastructure, and land-use improvements. “The things that we have to do for the Olympics are things we have to do for our city,” Walsh said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

To protect the city against any cost overruns, Walsh said a $25 million insurance policy has been purchased. When it was suggested that $25 million was “chump change” in terms of past Olympics deficits, Walsh said: “That’s the starting point.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, before leaving for the first meeting of his cabinet, seemed to be intrigued by the Boston Olympics bid. “This is what I would describe as an opportunity for us,” he said.

Officials repeatedly referred to the project as the Boston Olympics, but Walsh said other cities in Massachusetts would participate, specifically mentioning Lowell, Somerville, and Cambridge. “This truly is going to be a regional games,” he said.