State leaders react cautiously to Bid 2.0
Beacon Hill's 'big 3' praise Boston 2024 for more information, but say lots of questions remain
THIS WAS NOT a slam dunk drawing wild cheers. Or a back two-and-a-half somersault with a splashless pool entry. In Summer Olympics sport terms, Boston 2024’s presentation to state leaders today seemed to go over more like a middling shot down the fairway, one that is met with polite, but restrained, applause from a viewing gallery that had hoped for more.
That may be the best way to characterize initial reaction to the new Olympic Bid 2.0 plan from Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg after they met for 90 minutes with Boston 2024 officials.
It is “a worthy attempt to answer many of the questions that people have had about this project for the better part of the past few months, and I commend them on that,” Baker said following the meeting with Boston 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca and members of his team. “But we still have some work to do to determine a whole bunch of issues, in particular around the Commonwealth’s participation in this and what the expectations would be with regard to both projects at a detailed level and infrastructure involvement overall.”
Boston 2024 unveiled its updated plan earlier in the day. The proposal promises tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue for Boston, 8,000 units of housing, and more than 60,000 jobs — and backers say it can all be done with minimal financial risk to taxpayers.
Senate President Stan Rosenberg, known for his homemade tomato sauce, opted for culinary imagery. “They put a lot of meat on the bones today, and there’s going to be an awful lot of work and information to chew on here,” he said, before moving on to the dessert course. “But the proof will be in the pudding. We have to dig in deeply to all of the data they provided.”
The three leaders have been cautious from the start in their comments about the Boston Olympic proposal, and the new, much more detailed plan released today didn’t shake them off that guarded stance. The state leaders are far less focused on the development and housing plans that Mayor Marty Walsh will have to sell to Boston residents. Their concerns center on the state infrastructure spending the Games would rely on, and on ensuring that there is no expectation of any state subsidy for operating expenses — or liability for any cost overruns that might develop.
Baker zeroed in on plans for transportation improvements, which represent the biggest role the state would have. “It makes sense for us to make investments that benefit all taxpayers who ride public transportation or use the transportation system at all,” he said. “But we need to spend some time figuring out if that’s really what’s at stake here.”
“It’s very high level information with really big numbers on it,” Baker said of the new plan unveiled today. “And we would like to see a lot more detail about assumptions they’re making.” He cited as an example plans in the new proposal for $450 million in MBTA signal and track upgrades. Baker said he wants to see a more detailed breakdown of that work.
Organizers originally touted the idea of a compact “walkable” Games, but they have pivoted to include several venues an hour or more away from Boston. Sailing is now proposed for Buzzards Bay, while canoeing is slotted for the Deerfield River, which flows through Rosenberg’s Western Massachusetts district.
Polling has indicated stronger statewide support for the Olympics if venues are spread further across the state. Like DeLeo, Rosenberg said he was glad to see locations proposed beyond Boston. But both legislative leaders said the Olympic footprint is secondary to the issues related to financing and ensuring no state exposure for operating deficits.“I’m glad that they’re thinking outside of the box in many ways and also thinking outside of Boston,” said Rosenberg. “But I don’t think that’s going to be dispositive of the outcome.”
Boston 2024 has the attention of the three big powers on Beacon Hill, but is still far from closing the sale.