Boston 2024 promises a lot at ‘minimal risk’

Benefits include jobs, new housing, taxes, 2 new neighborhoods

BOSTON 2024 on Monday promised an Olympics that will produce more than 60,000 jobs, 8,000 housing units, tens of millions of new tax dollars, two new neighborhoods, and the missing link in Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace – all at “minimal risk” to taxpayers.

Steve Pagliuca, the chairman of Boston 2024, said every financial projection in the plan is conservative, relying on estimates that use the highest possible expense and the lowest possible revenue.  Even so, he said, a Boston Olympics would result in an operating surplus of $210 million. He said the two biggest capital projects – construction of a 69,000-seat, temporary Olympic stadium at Widett Circle and an athlete’s  village near UMass Boston – would be overseen by private master developers and backstopped by multiple levels of insurance coverage that are in the process of being purchased.

Given all the safeguards, Pagliuca said at a long-awaited presentation at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, it is highly unlikely the Games would run a deficit.  “We’d have to have an awful lot going wrong to have that happen,” he said.

One of the more comical aspects of the follow-up press conference was Pagliuca’s refusal to acknowledge that taxpayers would ultimately be the financial backstop if the Games did run a deficit. WBZ-TV reporter Jon Keller pressed Pagliuca over and over again to say that taxpayers would be on the hook if the projections turned out to be wrong and the insurance coverage, once it is purchased, is not sufficient. But Pagliuca refused to say those words.  He acknowledged it is impossible to eliminate all risk, saying “things can always go wrong.” But he answered Keller’s question each time – even when Keller asked for a yes or no answer – by listing all the financial safeguards built into the bid.

Pagliuca described the financial protections built into the bid for taxpayers as a “belt and suspenders approach” to budgeting.

No Boston Olympics, a group opposed to hosting the Games in Boston, said Pagliuca and his team failed to provide an insurance policy or an insurer who would shield taxpayers from absorbing cost overruns. “Boston 2024’s only real insurer is the taxpayers of Massachusetts,” the group said in a statement.

What Boston 2024 dubbed its 2.0 presentation focused on the operating budget for the Games, the capital budget for two key venues, and the infrastructure improvements needed for the city to play host to the Olympics. The operating budget is estimated at $4.805 billion, consisting of roughly $3.5 billion from the sale of broadcasting rights, sponsorships, and licenses plus $1.25 billion from the sale of 9.1 million tickets. Pagliuca said the average ticket price in 2016 dollars would be $136, although he said more affordable tickets would be made available to Massachusetts residents.

Operating expenses are projected at $4.595 billion, including $754 million for venue construction, $576 million in workforce payments, $176 million for the buildup and takedown of the Olympic stadium, $132 million for the rental of existing venues, $51 million for a broadcast center, and $128 million for insurance coverage. Those six items alone would total $1.8 billion. As a point of reference, Wynn Resorts is planning to build a single casino and hotel in Everett by 2018 that is projected to cost $1.7 billion.

Pagliuca said the Games would generate 4,100 construction jobs between 2018 and 2023, 54,300 jobs in 2024, and 2,200 jobs after the three weeks of Games are done.  He said Boston’s tax yield from the Games would grow slowly over time, rising by $10 million by 2030 and $377 million by 2080 as development projects take the place of Olympic venues. He estimated 4,000 apartment units would be constructed at Widett Circle and another 4,000 near UMass Boston.

David Manfredi, an architect working with Boston 2024, sought to highlight how the Games could help transform sections of Boston and forge some of the missing links in the Emerald Necklace.  He showed a slide of Widett Circle as it is now, a hodge-podge of industrial, corporate, and government uses. He then showed an artist’s rendering of Widett Circle with the Olympic stadium in place, and he showed an artist’s rendering of Widett Circle after a mixed-use development buildout. The transformation, as most artist’s renderings do, looked amazing, with Widett Circle resembling a mini-version of the Seaport District, with 7.9 million square feet of development.

Olympics Widett current

 

Olympics Widett with stadium

Olympics Widett after

Widett Circle today (top), Widett Circle during 2024 Olympic Games (middle above), and post-Games.

 

Manfredi said Widett Circle would provide a missing link in the Emerald Necklace by retaining 15 acres of open space, including the footprint of the former Olympic stadium surrounded by the residential and commercial construction.

The same sort of transformation is envisioned for the area in Dorchester near UMass Boston and adjacent to Harbor Point. Manfredi  showed a picture of what the area looks like today, and then artist renderings of what it would look like during and after the Olympics. The renderings again seemed to suggest the Seaport District will expand into the area vacated by the Bay Side Exposition Center, filling 4 million square feet of development space.

UMass Boston area today

Artist's rendering of UMass Boston area post-Olympics

UMass Boston area currently (top) and artist’s rendering of 2024 Olympics vision (above).

 

In his presentation, Rich Davey, the CEO of Boston 2024 and the former state transportation secretary, offered a reduced vision for the publicly financed infrastructure improvements needed for a successful Olympics. In Boston 2024’s original plan, dozens and dozens of small to large-size projects were described as needed or desirable for a Boston Olympics. In the latest version of the plan, the number of publicly financed projects was dramatically scaled back.

Davey said new Red and Orange line cars, new commuter rail locomotives, new buses, and power and signal upgrades on all transit lines are already approved by the MBTA and in development. Still needed, he said, are Green Line improvements to allow three-car trains ($350 million) and signal and power upgrades on the Red Line ($105 million) to allow trains to run more frequently.

Davey said a new entrance and exit at the Broadway T station near the proposed Olympic stadium is needed ($100 million) as well as improvements at the JFK Red Line station ($60 million) near the proposed Olympic village. He said $160 million in public money is also needed to turn Kosciuszko Circle at the northern end of Morrissey Boulevard into what appears to be a souped-up, four-way stop. Access from that part of Dorchester to I-93 would not change under the plan.

A number of other road and transportation projects, including a new commuter rail station at Widett Circle, would be privately financed. No money for the relocation of the federal government’s South Boston Postal Annex, which is needed to add rail lines to South Station and provide a grand promenade to the proposed Olympic stadium in Widett Circle, was included in the presentation.

The original plan of Boston 2024 relied heavily on venues in the immediate Boston area while the new plan spreads the wealth a bit. As previously announced, sailing events under the new plan would be held in New Bedford, shooting events in Billerica, beach volleyball in Quincy, handball at the DCU Center in Worcester,  kayaking and canoeing on the Deerfield River, and rowing on the Merrimack River in Lowell. Boston College will host judo and wrestling at Conte Forum, while Harvard University, Northeastern, and UMass Lowell will host archery, weight lifting, and taekwando and fencing, respectively.

Tennis events will be held at Harambee Park in Dorchester, equestrian and pentathlon events will be hosted in Franklin Park and at White Stadium, and basketball and gymnastics will take place at TD Garden.

Venues have not been found yet for mountain biking, diving, swimming, water polo, golf, BMX cycling, track cycling, and the broadcast center. Venues outside of Massachusetts and possibly New England will be used for some preliminary events, officials said.

Meet the Author

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.

Immediately after the presentation, Boston 2024 officials took off for briefings with state leaders and then planned to head to San Francisco for a presentation to officials of the US Olympic Committee. Officials said there will be further refinements to the plan unveiled on Monday as the final bid is developed, but they said the basic framework is now in place.

A make-or-break Massachusetts referendum on the Olympics is expected in November 2016 and, if the plan passes that hurdle, the International Olympic Committee is expected to pick the 2024 host during the summer of 2017.