Boston Olympics? Yes!

Games could be a boon to city neighborhoods

IT’S TIME TO get serious about a possible Boston Olympics – and to ensure that the benefits of such a global event are shared fairly with all.

While there is a long way to go before a 2017 decision by the International Olympic Committee, the majority of Boston’s global competitors for the 2024 Summer Olympics are from Europe, a continent that has hosted nine out of the past 18 Olympic Games. Geopolitics suggests 2024 is Boston’s to lose.

Boston would be the oldest American city to host the Olympics. It has a history and heritage that make it the quintessential American site for the Games. And holding the Olympics in the city that has endured the worst terrorist attack in the US since 9/11 would send a global message of defiance and resilience in the face of terrorism.

The economic and social benefits to Boston are many, and the boost to tourism throughout the region would be unparalleled. The opportunity for Boston to host the Olympics is not a once-in-a-lifetime moment; it is once in generations. If done correctly, it could do more than a federal stimulus, three casinos, and business tax breaks combined. We could not devise a better commercial for our city’s history-based tourism economy or our educational and medical institutions.

Here are some realities. Each of the last three Olympics held in major US cities left no deficits and produced combined profits of $361 million. The increased use of technology and global markets, coupled with more efficient delivery of services, suggests that the record $250 million profit posted at Salt Lake City’s Winter Olympics could be obliterated. Nearly twice as many nations take part in the Summer Games.

Critics are correct that sacrifices and compromise are required.  I challenge them, however, to provide a better incentive for infrastructure improvements than the Olympics coming to Boston, or to identify a new revenue stream without raising taxes. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to dismiss critics simply as naysayers.

Their concerns are valid. However, they cannot replace the employment opportunities the Olympics would present for residents in our poorer neighborhoods and our growing immigrant population. Many of their concerns can be addressed with transparency, open lines of communication, compromise, and the willingness of Bostonians to make it happen. Their concerns about the need for funding for education and human services are valid, but these require new revenues. The tax revenue generated from hosting an Olympics would help mitigate the increased burden on taxpayers. In addition, the improvements to long-term quality of life and the commitment of universities to construct new venues, housing, and dormitories will help mitigate the rising demand for and cost of housing. When the Olympics leave Boston, it will leave more housing, more businesses, and a legacy that is priceless.

Regardless, the greatest challenge for Boston 2024 is to project the perception to the IOC and the world that Bostonians are on board.  Key in gaining the support of Bostonians is the articulation of the short- and long-term benefits derived from hosting this event.

The Walsh administration is correct to back off any effort to infringe on the democratic process before it is a bigger issue, but if it focuses its energies on unambiguously articulating the benefits to the residents of Boston, a referendum in all likelihood would break in favor of hosting. The jobs and revenue generated over the next nine years far exceed any inconvenience the Games might cause. This city has survived a revolution, racial strife, terrorism, and snowstorms. Two weeks of bad traffic we will get over in two weeks.

There is validity in opponents’ concerns about the lack of transparency prior to submitting the application, but there is also validity to the concern that early indigenous dissention could potentially have placed Boston at a disadvantage compared with the US competitors we wound up besting. That aside, the sooner we can present a unified front, the sooner we can put forth the most viable proposal possible. This could ultimately even deter some global competitors from even submitting applications.

Meet the Author
It all boils down to one simple question: Will Boston be a better city for hosting the Olympics? Logic and history say yes! For Boston to win an Olympic bid we must have the best welcome mat for the world and Olympic athletes, and that means all hands on deck.

Barry Lawton, a former 24-year veteran honors history teacher in the Boston Public Schools, a community activist, and single parent of 14-year-old twins, lives in Dorchester.