Boston 2024

Boston 2024

Coverage of the bid to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston

The gay marriage-Boston 2024 connection

The gay marriage-Boston 2024 connection

Arguments against gay marriage and for a Boston Olympics didn't make sense

I CLOSELY FOLLOWED the debate around the Boston 2024 Olympics bid, and it seemed odd to me at first, but I just kept connecting it to the gay marriage fight, which I lived through as a citizen of Massachusetts 10 years ago.  Eventually, light dawned over the South End and I realized why.  Just like the opponents of gay marriage, what the Boston 2024 people were saying made no logical sense.  Having spent a majority of my career in the worlds of transportation and economic development, perhaps my BS detector is more sensitive on these issues, which Boston 2024 tried to invoke as the raison d’etre for the Boston Olympics.  But the polls showed it wasn’t only me who wasn’t buying it.

The more they talked, the more people started to understand that it couldn’t be about transportation or economic development, or at least not in the way they described it.  For a while there I think some people had the impression that, when your city is chosen to host the games, the International Olympics Committee shows up with bags of money and builds all the stuff you always wanted:  a 21st Century transportation system, tons of affordable housing, investment in neglected neighborhoods.

Once Olympics skeptics began to question the grandiose statements about economic development and a 21st Century transportation system, things started to become a little clearer.  It would actually be the taxpayers (and fare payers) who would be footing the bill for the transportation improvements, which were, Olympics proponents said, “already in the pipeline.”  The beauty of the Olympics, the argument now went, was that “there’s nothing like a deadline” to get things done, and the Olympics would be that deadline.  I’ve worked on public works projects in two states, including the Big Dig and the Boston Convention Center, and it’s pretty obvious to me that the only thing you get out of being in a rush is a substantially larger bill.  What started to become apparent was that there was little connection, never mind causality, between hosting the Olympics and fixing the T.  No, it must be about something else.

O'Connor, Peter

Next we started hearing about the Olympic athlete’s village that would get built at Columbia Point and how we’d end up with lots of dorm rooms for UMass Boston and affordable housing for regular folks. But isn’t there a Master Plan for Columbia Point, years and many contentious public meetings in the making?  How does this artist’s sketch of an Olympic village fit into the Columbia Point Master Plan?  If it did fit in with the plan, that would have been a terrific selling point, but in the end we never heard much about that.  No, it must be about something else.

Widett Circle, or as they called it, “Midtown”: Ah, now we finally come to it.  Crossing from my home in the South End to Southie, as I frequently do on foot and on bike, I know this part of the city from the viewpoint of the two bridges traversing the railroad tracks underneath.  (Also, unfortunately, from the depressing city tow lot where everyone is sad or angry and my car has been held for ransom on more than one occasion, but we’re not talking about that.)  I’m a transportation and urban policy wonk, so a rail yard to me is a beautiful thing (a tow lot, not so much). But I completely understand that this is not a majority view and that development pressure is pushing hard up against this district in a big way, with residential and mixed use development closing in from both the South End and Southie sides.

So is a rail yard, a tow lot, and a low density industrial zone the best use of this district?  Pretty obviously, today there are higher and better uses for this land and it’s probably time to take a look at this area and come up with a plan to manage development in a way that meets the city’s housing and economic development goals, and accommodates the transportation and industrial uses, either within the district or somewhere else.  And while it’s easy to become smitten with artist’s renderings of spiffy new residential buildings and beautiful new green spaces, city planning is about accounting for all of the land uses that a functioning city requires, including rail yards and loud, dirty industrial uses.

But what does this have to do with the Olympics?  They showed us an 80,000-seat stadium, sitting on a platform built on land where the tow lot and industrial uses now live, and over the rail yard.  In the next slide, it was gone.  In its place appeared the aforementioned spiffy new residential buildings and beautiful new green spaces.  So then, was the IOC going to pay for the platform and to relocate the industrial and transportation uses?  No, it seemed, this would be paid for through tax breaks granted to the redeveloper of the site, after the stadium was taken down.  In one breath, the hundreds of millions of extra tax dollars generated by redevelopment of the site were the reason to push forward with the Olympics, and in the next, they were given away as tax breaks to pay for the platform over the rail yard and relocation of the other uses.  Which might actually make some sense as part of a redevelopment plan for the district, but a connection was never made with the Olympic stadium.  How did the stadium, and its subsequent disappearance (at a cost of hundreds of millions), contribute to the transformation of the city tow lot into Midtown?

Olympics proponents like to say that just planning for the Olympics results in good ideas coming to the surface.  So we can perhaps take some consolation in the fact that we are all looking at this district with a fresh eye.  Maybe this whole exercise will result in the creation of a redevelopment plan, and then a whole new neighborhood, linking Southie with the South End and Back Bay in a way it isn’t now, and the reconnection of the Broadway station area to downtown when the Post Office central mail facility finally decamps to another site.

But, just like the folks opposing gay marriage 10 years ago couldn’t convince us of their position because their arguments didn’t make logical sense, neither could the folks at Boston 2024 convince us that hosting the Olympics was going to fix the T, create affordable housing, or redevelop Widett Circle.  In the end, their arguments just didn’t make sense either.

Peter O’Connor, a former city and state government official, is an attorney and development consultant in Boston’s South End.  He can be reached at peteroconnorboston@gmail.com.

What does Boston's withdrawal say about the city?

What does Boston’s withdrawal say about the city?

Opponents and proponents of hosting the Olympics offer their views

Statement of No Boston Olympics

Boston is a world-class city.  We are a city with an important past and a bright future. We got that way by thinking big, but also thinking smart. We need to move forward as a city, and today’s decision allows us to do that on our own terms, not the terms of the US Olympic Committee or the International Olympic Committee. We’re better off for having passed on Boston 2024.

 

Statement of Steve Pagliuca, chairman of Boston 2024

I write to you with difficult news. Today, after consulting with Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker, Boston 2024 and the United States Olympic Committee have made a joint decision to withdraw Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

We wish the outcome of our effort together had been different. The Games are the world’s greatest sporting event, and hosting them here in Boston – the world’s greatest sports city – would have been thrilling. Hosting the Games would have brought transformational benefits to Boston: 8,000 new units of housing, tens of thousands of new jobs, new tax revenues to fund city priorities, and so much more. With Bid 2.0, our fiscally-responsible plan for privately-financed Games that included unprecedented safeguards to manage the risks associated with hosting, I’m confident that these benefits greatly outweighed the risks of hosting.

Despite our disappointment, we know that our planning for the Games, including our vision for Widett Circle and Columbia Point, has already benefitted Boston, Mayor Walsh’s important 2030 planning process, and other civic conversations around the future of Boston’s neighborhoods and economic vitality. Our challenge now is to make sure that all the hard work and innovative thinking that went into developing Bid 2.0 is marshaled to advance important economic development, housing, infrastructure, and job creation opportunities throughout Boston and the Commonwealth.

We were able to release Bid 2.0 thanks to a strong working relationship with Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker, as well as the support of business, community, and political leaders across Massachusetts. With more time to engage in a discussion about Bid 2.0, along with the appropriate review by the Mayor, the Brattle Group, the Governor, and Beacon Hill leadership, we think public support would grow in Boston and across the Commonwealth. However, as we reflected on the timing and the status of our bid in this international competition, we and the USOC have come to the conclusion that the extensive efforts required in Boston at this stage of the bid process would detract from the US’s ability to compete against strong interest from cities like Rome, Paris, Budapest, and Hamburg.  Our decision to withdraw Boston’s bid is meant to give the Olympic movement in the United States the best chance to bring the Games back to our country in 2024.

I want to express my deep gratitude and appreciation to all of you for lending your time, talent, experience, and enthusiasm to this effort. In my two months as chairman of Boston 2024, I have been honored by your partnership and your passion for Boston and the Olympic movement. Thanks to you, we developed a strong plan for hosting the Games, and I have no doubt that Boston would have made a great host city. I know we can harness all of the energy that went into our bid in service of new ways to make Boston even better.

Statement of James Rooney of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

I want to commend the leaders of Boston 2024 for their bold thinking and for stimulating a statewide dialogue about planning for the future of this region – a process I hope will continue even without the Olympic bid. While hosting the Olympic Games could have been an exciting opportunity for Boston, I believe Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker were right to be cautious about assuming too much taxpayer risk. It seems there are lessons that any American city and the USOC should take away from this experience around issues of openness and transparency throughout the process, as well as whether any US mayor can be asked to put their city’s finances at risk to host an Olympics. Despite the withdrawal of Boston’s bid, our business, government, and civic leaders can and should continue the conversations about what our region could look like 10 or 20 years down the road, and how we can make smart investments in infrastructure, neighborhood planning, education, and housing to enhance our economic future and appeal as a global city.

Boston drops out of running for Olympics

Boston drops out of running for Olympics

Mayor, governor wouldn't be rushed on commitments

THE PRIVATE GROUP seeking to host a Boston Olympics in 2024 dropped its bid on Monday, shortly after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker told the US Olympic Committee that they needed more time before committing to the effort.

Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the US Olympic Committee, issued a joint statement with the private group Boston 2024 citing the inability of Olympic organizers to win support for the Games from a majority of Boston residents.

“Boston 2024 has expressed confidence that, with more time, they could generate the public support necessary to win the bid and deliver a great Games. They also recognize, however, that we are out of time if the USOC is going to be able to consider a bid from another city. As a result, we have reached a mutual agreement to withdraw Boston’s bid.”

The announcement, sure to ignite a major public debate about the reluctance of Boston residents and officials to pursue an Olympic bid, followed a frenzied morning of phone calls between USOC officials and Baker and Walsh and a hastily arranged Walsh press conference at City Hall.

Baker said he told the US Olympic Committee officials that he wanted to receive a report from a contractor hired by the state to review the Olympic bid before committing one way or the other. Any analysis would have probably laid out the benefits of hosting the Olympics while also identifying financial risks for the state.

Baker seemed surprised at the US Olympic Committee’s sudden need for quick action. “Nobody ever said that was a problem until about a week ago,” he said. “We had a time frame, we had a timetable. We announced it in March, and we stuck to it.  I think in some ways if our timeframe wasn’t one that worked with the way the USOC was thinking about this, that’s unfortunate. There’s not a lot anyone can do about it.”

At his City Hall press conference, Walsh said he remains a strong supporter of hosting the Olympics. But he said the US Olympic Committee was pressing him to quickly sign a document that would put the city on the hook for any cost overruns associated with hosting the 2024 Games. He said he needed more time to negotiate the terms of that agreement and come up with insurance protections for taxpayers.

“We have met every demand and every challenge, but I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk,” said Walsh, the biggest political backer of a Boston Olympics. “If committing to signing the guarantee today is what’s required to move forward, then Boston is no longer pursuing the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Walsh added: “This is a commitment I cannot make without assurances that Boston and its residents will be protected. I refuse to mortgage the future of the city away. I refuse to put Boston on the hook for overruns.”

Walsh held his press conference after talking by phone with Blackmun. Walsh said Blackmun urged him to think very carefully about what he would say at his press conference. Walsh also said he talked by phone with Baker and Boston 2024 Chairman Steve Pagliuca.

Boston 2024, the private group that has spent millions of dollars laying the groundwork for hosting the Games, insists it has built four layers of financial protection into its bid to shield taxpayers from footing any bill. But apparently Walsh was not convinced. He said he didn’t want taxpayers to pay one cent for cost overruns, which presumably meant Boston 2024 would have purchased any insurance protection the city required.

Walsh said he had no regrets about supporting Boston’s bid for the Games, noting the discussion has pushed forgotten areas of the city (primarily Widett Circle, where an Olympic stadium was proposed) and the needs of the city (housing) on to the front burner.

He also indicated his reluctance to sign the financial guarantee was not spurred by opposition to Boston hosting the Games.  “The opposition for the most part is 10 people on Twitter,” he said. He added that polls showing half of the state opposes hosting the Games are misleading. “I don’t think it’s strong opposition. It’s concerned opposition,” he said, suggesting that support would have come around if proponents were given more time to make their case.

Michael Jonas contributed to this report.

 

Five takeaways from the Olympics debate

Five takeaways from the Olympics debate

A lot of noise and numbers, but little illumination

THIS BOSTON OLYMPICS DEBATE was a train wreck. There were occasional flashes of insight, but overall the two reporters asking the questions and the four debaters answering them did little to illuminate the subject matter. They tossed numbers around indiscriminately, they got sidetracked on seemingly inconsequential issues, and they ended up all too often talking over each other so no one could be heard. At the end of the hour-long debate, Fox 25’s Maria Stefanos said she wished they could keep going for another three hours. Thankfully, no one paid any attention.

Since there are five Olympic rings, I’ll give you five takeaways from this debate.

There was no clear winner, which means the Olympics opponents probably came out ahead. Steve Pagiluca, the chairman of Boston 2024, and Daniel Doctoroff, a board member of both Boston 2024 and the US Olympic Committee, came into this debate with the challenge of turning opponents into supporters. Public support for the Olympics is currently about 40 percent, with 50 percent opposed. Pagliuca and Doctoroff were aggressive, grabbing a disproportionate share of the debate time. But it’s hard to believe they changed a lot of minds. They were forced to spend a lot of time on the defensive, fending off verbal hand grenades from the opponents — Chris Dempsey of No Boston Olympics (“They’re spending $4.5 billion and not one penny for the T”) and Andrew Zimbalist, an economist from Smith College (“Most of the numbers I have looked at reflect drunken optimism”).

The vision thing was in short supply. To convert opponents into supporters, Boston 2024 has to sell people on the notion that hosting the Olympics can positively transform the city of Boston and other parts of Massachusetts. The format never allowed Pagliuca and Doctoroff to make their case. The first question was about why Boston 2024 was just now releasing an unredacted version of its first bid document, which has been replaced by what many people are calling Bid 2.0. Dempsey suggested Boston 2024 was releasing the old document only because of the threat of a subpoena from the Boston City Council. Sensing where things were going, Pagliuca asked when they were going to start looking forward and not backward. But the first 20 minutes went by and he never got untracked. The questions kept coming about cost overruns, traffic, air rights, tax breaks, velodromes, and taxpayer guarantees. Pagliuca was like a fighter fending off an opponent’s jabs, tiring as the fight wore on. He kept repeating that the last three Olympics had all turned a profit. He repeatedly accused his debate opponents of hyperbole.

There’s no free lunch. A lot of us have been thinking the Olympics would pump money into the T and other infrastructure projects, saving us from having to use tax dollars. But the debate made clear that wasn’t going to happen, at least on any significant scale. Dempsey pounded home the fact that Boston 2024 is planning to spend billions hosting the Olympics but not one penny on the T.  Pagliuca, to his credit, didn’t pander. He said the MBTA is a government responsibility, to be financed by taxes and other revenues. He said the benefit of an Olympics is that it imposes a deadline on city and state officials who often lay out transportation visions but then never follow through. Dempsey countered that the Olympics will distort the T planning process, steering scarce resources to projects required for the Games and not to areas where investment is most needed. Pagliuca got in the final word, asking Dempsey how his approach has been working. “Why haven’t we fixed the T?” he asked.

To guarantee or not to guarantee. Pagliuca put on his green eyeshade and tried to convince the television audience that his budget was really conservative, with all sorts of cushioning built in so taxpayers won’t be left holding the bag. Dempsey asked why Pagliuca, if he was so sure the Games would turn a profit, wasn’t willing to get rid of the taxpayer guarantee signed by the city of Boston. Pagliuca said the guarantee was required to bid on the Olympics. He stressed that Boston 2024 is doing everything it can to avoid deficits, but he noted there is no such thing as a no-risk investment.

There were a few news nuggets. Doctoroff, who was a convincing advocate for hosting the Olympics, said traffic congestion actually decreases during the Games, and the claim came across as believable. Doctoroff also seemed to put to rest gossip that the US Olympic Committee is prepared to walk away from Boston to find a more welcoming community. He said the USOC is “incredibly impressed” with Boston and has no intention of going somewhere else.  “Rumors are rumors. They’re not true,” he said. “Boston is our city.”

4 things to watch in Olympics debate

4 things to watch in Olympics debate

Latest poll data show no clear trends

THURSDAY NIGHT, Boston 2024 and No Boston Olympics will meet in a debate hosted by Fox25 and the Boston Globe. Boston 2024’s representatives will be chairman Steve Pagliuca and Daniel Doctoroff, a board member of both Boston 2024 and the US Olympic Committee. Their opponents will be Chris Dempsey, the cochair of No Boston Olympics, and Andrew Zimbalist, an economist and author of a book on the cost of hosting the Olympics.

The stakes are high. This month’s WBUR poll shows support (42 percent) still trailing opposition (50 percent). The United States Olympic Committee, which decides in September whether to officially submit Boston as the US entrant for host city status, has said publicly it wants to see support in the 50s “relatively soon.” The latest polls show the numbers aren’t clearly trending in any direction.

Here are four things to look for when the two sides square off.

  1. Don’t elevate a lesser opponent. This oft-repeated political advice could apply to either side here. The question for Boston 2024 is, why risk bringing the lowly, underfunded, ragtag opposition up to their level? And for No Boston Olympics: why not sit on high favorables and a so-far durable lead, instead of giving the bid team a chance to change their fortunes? The approach both sides take to the debate could offer clues into what each hopes to gain from it.
  1. How does Boston 2024 look to win over opponents? Simply put, Olympic proponents have to change minds, not just win over undecided voters. To meet the USOC’s stated goal of support in the 50s “relatively soon”, to win a referendum next year, and (eventually) to win as host city, some number of opponents will need to be persuaded to support the Games. Opposition is currently at 50 percent, and even higher among the older and whiter voters most likely to show up in a referendum. Boston 2024 has said they have no plans for an ad buy, which seems to ratchet up the pressure for appearances like this. Keep a close eye on what arguments Boston 2024 uses to appeal to skeptics.
  1. Which side wins the debate on public funding, and how much time is spent on it? Despite months of assurances, 75 percent statewide still believe Massachusetts taxpayers will end up on the hook for the Games, an idea that has been consistently unpopular. This is an opportunity for the “yes” side to explain their position on public funding, either to sell voters on the use of public money or to try to persuade people that public funding won’t be needed after all. But campaigns are largely won or lost by what issues get the most attention. If the debate is all about who will owe what to whom and when, the “no” side seems likely to come out ahead.
  1. Does the USOC’s presence change the dynamic? The USOC is better liked than Boston 2024 in our most recent WBUR poll, giving them a measure of credibility in Thursday’s debate. The presence may be beneficial by allowing the pro-Olympics side to shift the conversation away from the daily back and forth over the mundane details that occupy so much media attention here. The USOC’s presence also reinforces the committee is working side-by-side with Boston 2024, rather than looking down critically and skeptically from their lofty perch.

On balance, it appears that Boston 2024 has more to prove, and more at stake. Despite conflicting messages from the USOC on target support levels, it certainly seems Boston 2024 needs to start peeling off some opponents and soon. It’s possible. Over a third (37 percent) of opponents say they are open to changing their mind, enough to meet any of the goals for support levels that the USOC or others have set. Tomorrow night will be a big test of whether Boston 2024 can do that.

Steve Koczela is president of the MassINC Polling Group, a subsidiary of MassINC, the publisher of CommonWealth magazine.

Olympics jobs shouldn't be union only

Olympics jobs shouldn’t be union only

Bid 2.0 excludes four-fifths of workers

BOSTON 2024’s second plan to host the Summer Olympics in Massachusetts attempts to convince taxpayers it’s financially feasible and responsible. However, the inclusion of a discriminatory and costly hiring policy contradicts that point.

In unveiling Bid 2.0 last week, Steve Pagliuca, chairman of Boston 2024, promised the Olympics would generate “billions of dollars of spending in the region and create tens of thousands of jobs in a range of industries — including construction.”

It sounds wonderful, unless you’re a merit shop construction worker.  The new bid uses Project Labor Agreements to hand all the construction jobs related to the Olympic Games to unions, who represent only 20 percent of the construction workforce in Massachusetts, according to federal labor statistics.  In exchange for the union-only restriction, organized labor agrees not to cause disruptions to the project.

Many taxpayers are already familiar with the downside of PLAs.  They governed the Big Dig, which suffered from runaway construction costs, and they were used extensively during the Patrick Administration’s last four years in office.  (Perhaps, not coincidentally, Boston 2024 is staffed almost entirely by former Patrick Administration officials.)

Critiquing PLAs is not union bashing.  A fair evaluation of the policy suggests PLAs discriminate against a majority of Massachusetts construction workers; unfairly limit competition among qualified, responsible contractors; and cause construction costs to skyrocket. The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University reported that PLAs increase construction costs by at least 14 percent. An analysis of PLAs by the state of New Jersey showed public schools built under PLAs were 30.5 percent more expensive and took longer to complete than those built without.

The New York Regional Planning Association found that during the recent Great Recession, when downward economic pressure led to double-digit reductions in construction costs, project owners who entered into a PLA were, “almost universally disappointed with the actual savings achieved – 2 to 4 percent rather than the promised 20 percent.”

When a PLA on a school building program in Fall River resulted in bids wildly over budget, then-Mayor Edward Lambert rescinded the union-only measure and opened the bidding to all qualified contractors, union and nonunion alike. Prices came in under budget, saving Fall River residents millions in construction costs and leading Lambert to say, “With more bidders you tend to get a better price.”

Bids under a PLA are always higher because of the limited competition, even on public works projects subject to the state’s Prevailing Wage Law, which mandates that pay and benefits be pegged to the union rate.

But, according to the New York study, within construction trade unions there also exists a “universe of unproductive work rules and longstanding practices – whether mandated by contract or simply by custom – which reduce efficiency, introduce redundancy, or otherwise cause costs to soar through delays and overstaffing.”

PLA proponents offer a long list of discredited claims to justify this employment discrimination.  Their talking points regarding compensation, training, performance, and quality collapse under scrutiny.  Consider these facts:

  • All workers must belong to a union when working on a PLA project.  According to union rules, a nonunion worker allowed on the job must join the union within seven days.
  • Merit shop employees enjoy pay and benefits equal to, if not better than, their union counterparts. They have excellent health insurance plans; receive paid holidays, sick days and vacation time; and have fully-funded 401(k) pension plans. (This helps explain why union membership is stuck at about 20 percent.)
  • Merit shop employees have the same training and take the same tests as union members to become licensed in their trade.
  • Merit shop employees approach their craft with professionalism and pride. They do not cause job delays and project disruptions. Only unions strike and picket.
  • PLAs fail to guarantee the hiring of minorities, women, and local residents.  By locking out four out of five construction workers, projects do not have access to the available workers necessary to meet those hiring goals. Most recently, the city of New Bedford joined San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York, and Baltimore in failing to meet goals for hiring local residents, women, and minorities on construction projects as promised by PLA supporters.

The Merit Construction Alliance believes that unionization among workers is a choice that should be recognized and respected.  Equally as important, employees who prefer to work for merit shops should not be subject to employment discrimination simply because they choose not to join a union.

The principal of fair competition is the cornerstone of the Olympic Games.  Imagine an Olympics where four out of five qualified athletes were arbitrarily denied access to compete and where political connections, not athletic performance, determined the winners and losers.  Such games would be rejected outright by the public.

Massachusetts should send a strong message that discriminatory hiring policies will not be tolerated and reject Boston 2024’s bid.

Ronald Cogliano is the president of the  Merit Construction Alliance, a nonprofit association of merit shop contractors and employees that advocates for fair competition and equal opportunity.

Americans really want to host Olympics

Americans really want to host Olympics

Boston, the US bidder, offers sharp contrast

AMERICANS REALLY WANT to host the 2024 Olympics. They want it more than they have in the past. They want it more than other countries do. They want it more than almost any country ever has. US cities were in the running for the Olympics twice in recent years, with 54 percent and 61 percent national support, respectively. This time around, a resounding 89 percent of Americans support the idea of the United States hosting the Games, according to an AP-Gfk poll conducted in June.

If this level of supports hold (and it not an outlier), it’s not just higher than previous US bids. It’s higher than most other countries that have bid for the Olympics since the International Olympic Committee began publishing polls in prospective host nations. Since the 2008 games, there have been just two instances (both in China) where support for hosting the games exceeded 89 percent support.

American support also clocks in above any of the other countries with a city currently bidding for the Summer 2024 Games. Media polls show France with 73 percent support, leading Hungary and Germany, each with around 60 percent support.

olympics morris koczela chart

Sky-high national support for bringing the games to the US may come as a bit of a surprise in Boston, the US bidder for the 2024 games and a city where polls continue to show serious skepticism. Recent polls around Boston and across the state have shown support languishing in the low to mid-40s. Support has been so low that some speculated that the US Olympic Committee (USOC) would pull the plug on the Boston bid when they met last month.

The USOC stuck with the Boston bid, but USOC Chairman Larry Probst said he’d like to see public support over 50 percent “relatively soon” and “ultimately” hit 60 percent in favor. Notably, there have been no local polls conducted in other potential 2024 cities. So we don’t know for sure whether Boston’s hesitation is unique, or if naysayers in Paris and Rome will be just as vocal as Bostonians have been.

The GfK/AP poll suggests Boston 2024 might have a strong customer base for domestic sponsorships, which are being counted on to bring in $1.5 billion. But the poll comes with a few important caveats that help put the high support numbers in context. First, the poll didn’t zero in on the Boston bid; it asked about an American Olympiad generically, and then whether respondents would want the Games in their state or area. Support dropped as the questions hit closer to home. Three-quarters (75 percent) support an Olympics in their home state and three-fifths (61 percent) would want the Games in their own area. And just over half (56 percent) think “hosting the Olympics has usually been worth the cost for the local areas where they are played.”

This downward step-pattern in support levels ends up just about where Boston support was when the city was first chosen in January; just over half. At that time, the idea of a Boston Olympics was mostly theoretical, with little public awareness of the details of what hosting would entail. The people surveyed by AP-GfK were responding to a similar uninformed hypothetical – the idea of a local Olympics, untempered by months of tweets, FOIAs, op-eds, public forums, and conversations over the office Keurig machine.  It’s easier to get excited about a US Olympics somewhere else: it’s all of the patriotism with none of the responsibility.

Ashira Morris is a research intern and Steve Koczela is the president of the MassINC Polling Group.

Note: The AP-GfK poll was conducted among 1,005 respondents June 19-21, 2015. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Boston 2024 backs state referendum

Boston 2024 backs state referendum

Fish said voters will make final decision

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

THE CHIEF BACKER of a Boston bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics is now supporting the idea of a 2016 referendum on the bid.

Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, who is spearheading the privately funded nonprofit seeking to bring the summer Olympics to Boston, told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning that Boston 2024 is “committed to the highest level of transparency and accountability” and will gather signatures for a 2016 ballot question.

“Prior to this vote, we will be working with the people of Boston and Massachusetts to build the best bid possible – one that reflects the best of our state and the Olympic and Paralympic movement,” Fish said in a statement after the speech. “Then, the people of Massachusetts can make the final decision on whether we have achieved those goals.”

The next statewide election will be held in 2016. Olympics supporters have watched their poll numbers plummet over the last three months.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a supporter of the ballot initiative process, said “having the 2024 people say they would support a statewide referendum, I think, is a good thing.”

“And I think it’s a signal and a message that they get the fact that the people of Massachusetts should have an opportunity to sign-on on this,” Baker told reporters.

Asked whether he would get involved in the ballot campaign, Baker said, “The short answer to that is I’m not sure. It would depend to some extent on a lot of the other data that’s being developed and the product that’s being developed.”

Baker and legislative leaders on Monday announced that they plan to hire an outside consultant by early May to evaluate the potential bid, at a cost of no more than $250,000.

No Boston Olympics, a group set up in opposition to bringing the games to the city, said in a statement that they were “glad to see Boston2024 embrace that idea after months of rejecting it.”

“The ballot language itself now becomes incredibly important,” the group said. “We hope to work constructively with Boston2024 to craft language that accurately and fully reflects the difficult choice facing our Commonwealth. We need to ask voters if taxpayers should be on the hook if things don’t go according to Boston2024’s plan.”

In a statement released on Tuesday, shortly after Fish committed to a ballot effort, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh signaled his own reversal.

“The success of our bid for the Olympics depends on the support of residents and we should only move forward in a way that will bring the greatest benefit to the City and its neighborhoods. Over the next year, I encourage residents to engage in a conversation to learn more about what the Olympics could mean for Boston and the entire Commonwealth, and to put forward any suggestions or concerns,” Walsh said.

Walsh’s communications director Laura Oggeri later clarified that a referendum is Walsh’s preferred way to measure public support for the games.

Walsh previously opposed a ballot question on the games, saying in January that there would not be a referendum and that organizers would talk to Bostonians, not just “ram it down people’s throats.”

Walsh told Boston Public Radio in February that he believes the Olympics would need 70 percent support and said 51 percent support would be inadequate.

Evan Falchuk, chairman of the United Independent Party and a 2014 gubernatorial candidate, has said he is aiming to mount his own effort to place a question on the Olympics before Bay State voters.

Using the 1984 Olympics as precedent, House Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus believes a voter referendum supporting cost controls on Boston’s bid for the games would improve the city’s bargaining position.

“What I’m hearing is not so much do you want the Olympics or not, but a real skepticism that these events will end up costing them money,” the Mattapoisett Democrat told the News Service.

In 1978, nearly three quarters of Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure prohibiting the spending of city money on the Olympics without guaranteed reimbursement, according to the LA84 Foundation, which was established with the surplus funds from the games.

Straus said the vote encouraged the private sponsors of the games to control spending, and he said a similar referendum could allay some concerns of those skeptical about bringing the Olympics to Boston in 2024. He suggested Olympics backers should support such a cost-control referendum.

“The whole tenor of the discussions would change if they were to be the ones passing that kind of ironclad guarantee for the people of Massachusetts,” said Straus, who said there is still enough time for a similar move.

The first bid submission to the International Olympic Committee is set for Dec. 2016, according to Boston 2024.

The International Olympic Committee is slated to select a host city in summer 2017.

Mike Deehan contributed reporting.

Olympics bad news for W. Mass

Olympics bad news for W. Mass

Remember the Big Dig?

THE OLYMPICS IN Boston in 2024 sounds like a grand plan. It certainly would put Boston and the Commonwealth on the international map; but, leave western Mass off the same map.

And while proponents and opponents line up to make their arguments, including the possibility of a statewide referendum, one thing is for certain – if it happens – western Mass will end up the big loser infrastructure wise.

Remember the Big Dig? A transportation project for the greater Boston area originally estimated to cost $2.8 Billion in 1982 – will ultimately cost the taxpayers $24.3 Billion – when the final Bond is paid off in 2038 – including $9.3 Billion in interest alone.

During my terms as Mayor of Springfield (1996-2004) the city and region was always in competition against the Big Dig for infrastructure needs. Always.

From Chapter 90 dollars for basic road repairs; to bigger ticket items like the Memorial Bridge; to the current 91 Viaduct project, western Mass is still suffering the impact of the Big Dig. We never got our fair share.

There is only a limited number of state dollars for these projects. Should Boston be designated for 2024, those area infrastructure projects will be funded and western Mass transportation needs will be put on the back burner for years. There is no way around it unless specific legislation mandates equal distribution of funding across the State. Even then, I have my doubts. There will simply be no way to say no to the needs of Boston 2024.

I’m not against the Olympics. I am for western Massachusetts.

Michael Albano is the former mayor of Springfield. He currently serves as a member of the Governor’s Council. He previously served the Commonwealth as a probation officer and member of the Parole Board.