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The idea of Boston hosting the 2024 summer Olympics is a stretch, but boosters still have the gleam of Olympic gold in their eyes. (B Tal/flickr)

Remember Boston during the 2004 Democratic National Convention? We were host to thousands of partying pols at what was then the Fleet Center, but you could roll a bowling ball down Newbury Street and not hit a single person. Local Bostonians and traditional summer tourists were so spooked by the dire predictions of road closures, security checks and the specter of 25,000 media representatives roaming the streets that they stayed away in droves.

Something similar happened in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Although the Games were a public relations success and spurred development in underused parts of the city, a post-mortem study by the British government found that overall, international visitor numbers were actually down in the summer of 2012. In other words, the Olympics didn’t so much stimulate tourism as displace it. Oh, and did I mention that the costs of putting on the London extravaganza ballooned from the initial bid by 380 percent?

The idea of Boston hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics is a stretch, but boosters still have the gleam of Olympic gold in their eyes. A special commission established by the Legislature has been hearing breathless testimony about the good an Olympics bid could do to stimulate construction jobs and finally get the state to commit new resources to the MBTA. We’re going to need that money, and more: The U.S. Olympic Committee, which will be reviewing domestic bids, requires the host city to have not just reliable public transit, but an Olympic village that can accommodate 16,500 athletes, technical support for more than 15,000 media and 45,000 hotel rooms — far more than Boston has now.

We shouldn’t need some fleeting prod to regional pride to do what is right by Boston’s residents and commuters.

The International Olympic Committee further requires that the host city guarantee the cost of the Games, covering any operating losses, which can be substantial. It took Montreal almost 30 years to pay off its debt from the 1976 Games.

The special commission is adamant that it is only studying the “feasibility” of Boston hosting the Olympics and not delving into grubby business of how much it might cost the taxpayers. “We’re not getting involved in the cost-benefit analysis of this in great detail,” commission chairman John Fish, CEO of Suffolk Construction Company, said after this week’s hearing, according to the State House News Service. But there are ample studies that evaluate the long-term economic benefits — or lack thereof — to places that host the Olympics.

Every experience is different, of course, but most studies find that the Olympics can be beneficial to boosting the local economy in developing cities, such as Beijing and Rio, where the baseline for infrastructure and employment is relatively low. But mature economies such as Tokyo’s (or Boston’s) would not see as much long-term benefit. And no amount of spending on the Olympics can do anything about Boston’s weather. From January through March, tourists and conventioneers will find other places to visit, post-Olympic glow or not.

Meanwhile, if the region needs better MBTA service — and several comprehensive studies show that it can’t fully accommodate the ridership demand right now — our political leaders should find the will to pay for it. We shouldn’t need some fleeting prod to regional pride to do what is right by Boston’s residents and commuters.

One more thing the commission should be considering, and that is all the projects that won’t get funds and attention while the region goes all-out to meet Olympic deadlines. The list of unmet needs is long, from housing to education. Shouldn’t they become the focus of our civic pride?

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Tags: Boston, Olympics

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  • Joe

    The same thing happened in Atlanta. Business invested a lot of money expecting crowds and $$$. No one left the Olympic area. One of the biggest draws for having the Olympic in Atlanta was the state of the art subway system. It operated flawlessly during the Olympics. The T will ensure we NEVER get an Olympics!!! It is laughable that there are fools thinking Boston could ever host this event!!

    • Matt

      I lived in Atlanta for 5 years. It has the worst public transit system in the country. Calling it state of the art is a bit of a stretch. Unless you were being sarcastic…

      • Steve B

        I went to the 96 Olympics. The trains ran very well. I just don’t see them being rated lower than the T.

  • cuvtixo

    I think it is much worse than depicted here. It isn’t just Russian Olympics where corruption blooms. The contracts and kickbacks provide a huge displacement of public funds into the coffers of corrupt local politicians and contractors. I beleive this is the main reason why many push hard to bring the Olympics to their locale. I wouldn’t (and didn’t 1980) miss the events at all. This boondoggle, this orgy of bribes and paybacks should never pollute Boston. Ask Athens about the “benefits” of hosting the Olympics.

  • Miles Howard

    So, let me just get this straight: the commission chairman is the CEO of a construction company?

    • Chad

      My mind was spinning over this as well – can we say CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

      • Close2TheEdge

        I’m not sure it’s fair to call it a conflict of interest. Hosting an Olympics would require massive amounts of infrastructure construction in a relatively short amount of time. The perspective of a major construction company in the feasibility study stage seems quite logical. Now, if the process ever moved forward, it would be critical that there be no favoritism or cronyism in the awarding of contracts, and that leadership represent a cross-section of interests. This is the part that Boston has never done well at.

        • rkean

          Definitely a conflict of interest- profit vs what is good for Boston, Bostonians, and the earth.

    • Jasoturner

      Yeah, weird coincidence, right?

  • jefe68

    The city of Boston would be making a grave mistake at putting in a bid for such nonsense. Which will cost millions by the way.

    The idea that to get the state to commit new resources to the MBTA the city should host the Olympics is absurd. What kind of civic planing is this? Also how does such a plan even help the minority neighborhoods?
    I doubt that the MBTA would be upgrading the T into neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, Mattapan, and Roxbury. All of which desperately need to have this investment.

    The Olympics is nothing but cash drain on any city that hosts it, look at what happened in London, and watch what happens in Rio de Janeiro.

    • dust truck

      No, but I’m sure some wealthy hucksters… oops I meant entrepreneurs stand to make a lot of money if the big O comes to town. Those are probably the same ones that are pushing it. Like the chairman of the commission… as Howard pointed out.

  • Michael Barszewski

    First lets call it the Greater Boston Olympics. Than can we leverage The close proximity to each other of our great colleges and universities? In other words can we get more bang for our buck than other metro areas?
    Start with Alston Landing: develop the Olympic village with future Harvard and BU housing and campus.
    Stadium becomes a venue for collegiate sports in Boston.
    Each major college develops their own arenas with help from Olympic committee, i.e. Aquatic center at one, track at another, gymnastics at a third.
    summer sessions are replaced with housing at the different colleges.
    Synergistic possibilities. Are we capable of such a vision?

  • Kevin Powers

    the Legislature created a commission to look into bringing the Olympics to Boston, did the legislature do anything to insure that all sides of the debate are represented on the Commission? I think not. The web site of the commission does not even list its members. Are the members residents of Boston? I suspect it is comprised of supporters of bringing the Olympics to Boston. This means the commission will simply be a propaganda arm of the special interests that will benefit from the Olympics. I think the Mayor should insist on an equal number of Boston residents be on the commission that includes Olympic skeptics.

  • Othemts

    I agree about the Summer Olympics being a bad fit for Boston, but I think the Winter Olympics would be perfect. Several venues already exist for ice events in Boston (Boston Garden, Matthews Arena, Agganis Arena, Walter Brown Arena, Conte Forum, Bright Arena) that are comparable to those used at previous games and alpine events can be held at NH/VT ski resorts that have a history of hosting events for snow sports. The Winter Games are also 1/4 the size of the Summer Games so Boston would not need to build a lot of housing/hoteling for participants and spectators (and what is built can be repurposed as student housing or apartments which are needed anyway). As the Winter Olympics take place in February it would draw people to Boston during the offseason for tourism. Whatever money is spent (improving existing venues, housing, infrastructure/MBTA improvements) will be spent on things that Boston needs anyway and will continue to benefit the city after the Games are over.

    There’s a great website (not mine) that spells this out in more detail: http://www.bostonwinterolympics.com/index.html

    • jefe68

      What a load of baloney. How would the city of Boston offset the $30 billion dollar plus price tag? And you know what I for one want my tax dollars going to making housing, infrastructure and MBTA improvements for the future of the city an not for some two week event.
      The mere idea that it would take the Olympics to make these needed improvements is obscene in my opinion.

  • limbodog

    Please no.

  • Merimuch

    The fernald center grounds in Waltham would make a perfect Olympic village… Just saying.

  • Jon Seward

    Thanks for that blast of fresh air. Boston doesn’t suffer from a lack of name recognition, tourism, or facilities and infrastructure development – precisely the things that Olympics excel at providing. Barcelona is the best example I know of for cost containment, success, and best outcomes from a major event. They had a complicated, highly evolved comprehensive plan, so that investment funds were targeted to areas and services that most needed them, that all facilities could be well used after the event, or that the benefits would be enjoyed across the citizenry. I would be very interested to see plans of similar sophistication being drawn up for Boston.

  • James Hayes-Bohanan

    Thanks for asking — this is a truly crazy idea, and it is discouraging to see how easy it has been to get a commission established to look into it. IOC would NEVER approve a proposal, but a lot of money could be wasted writing one.

  • maraith

    Stupid idea.

  • gggreggg

    definitely NO to having the Olympics here!!! we went through the Big Dig and we dont need another major disruption in out small city.

  • T Kruse

    Don”t do it…..Build schools, repair the bridges and roads

    • Jasoturner

      I suppose you want universal access to health insurance too. Some people are never satisfied…

  • Tall_and_Sweet

    This idea shouldn’t even be considered until we solve homelessness, fix all our bridges, provide day care and good schools for ALL residents, and create affordable housing for Boston’s majority. In other words, NEVER.

  • Jeff Dearman

    I AM TIRED OF YOU NIMBYS destroying good ideas. Every time someone proposes something NIMBYS step in and say NO …there’s a lot of possible venue locations we ALREADY have for an olympics and some areas we can build on like a Water front stadium – sticking out into the harbor…by the Aquarium or from Fan Pier Area in Souh Boston or a Charles River Basin Stadium connected to the esplenade..and connected via land bridges. Athlete village could be connected via a greenway from BU bridge to Nickerson Field which would be a new Softball field called Braves field. – and the Agganis arena a pedestrian greenway would follow across the tracks to new Athletes villlage in Allston – and then the greenway would continue to Harvard Stadium whhich would be renovated into a field hockey/Soccer venue, and a Swim/Diving/Water polo complex could be built here along with Tennis Complex and maybe even handball/Table Tennis/Fencing/Judo./Taekwando/Wrestling/Weight lifting venue. Perhaps if there’s room a Beach Volleyball as well or a Velodrome. this would involve redesign of the Harvard Athletic field area and the parkland along the Charles River across Storrow Drive. – the greenway could continue from BU bridge over the MASS PIKE – to the Back pay..and the Mass Pike could be covered over and housing for athletes could be built which would be used as residential housing later – and a new SW corridor like park could be built with English style row houses….for the athletes – along the length – brownstones, etc. – along with retail, cafes, and such creating a new neighborhood. – This would be very doable…..—and the rest of the venues are pretty much there already like Equestrian @ Suffolk Downs, Golf @ granite Links Quincy, the country club, Rowing @ Lake Quinsigamond In Worcester. Basketball/Gymnastics, and finals of wieght lifting, wrestling, boxing @ TD garden. – Fencing, Gymnsatics prelim, Weight lifting prelim, Table tennis., Takewando. Judo at Conte Forum, and Agganis Arena. – Maybe DCU Center in Worcester as well. Perhaps a Slalom Course in South Boston on cleaned up run down land by Drydock Avenue…perhaps a Tennis Venue or Velodrome , handball court, Beach Volleyballl or Indoor volleyball venue by the bank of america pavillion – in Southie. With more olympic housing built in the Seaport District and by the Convention center. Convention center would be used for primary media area and retail area… and interactive exhibits, etc. – Security HQ would be the Federal Courthouse .and the FBI building next to TD garden in Boston (Homeland Security). Media/Volunteer/Arthlete family lots /security/news parking would be in South Boston. – Sailing pavillion @ Castle Islland – with a sailing route through the Bosoton Harbor islands – and back. – Marathon route from Lowell Historic park to chelmsford to Carlisle (by Great Brook Farm State Park). to cross Old north Bridge in Concord. to Mass Ave to Lexington Green (following the Battle Road) to Johnson Road in Winchester (hilly) to Winchester Center (flat) to Mystic Valley parkway –along the mystic lakes to Alewife brook parkway, to powderhouse square by Tufts univ through somerville over to Memorial drive then across the Mass Ave Bridge and turn on Comm ave to hereford st and end at the Finish line for the marathon. a Triathalon Route could start @ Peddocks island and swim to Hull then bike from Hull to Atlantic Ave Cohassett. to Wompatuck State park then switch in Wompatuck Park and run tthrough to Scituate Lighthouse finish line. Mountain Biking at Blue Hills along with a BMX course. – Alumni Stadium could be refurbished into a soccer and field hockey arena – and Conte forum could be used as well for judo, takewondo, weight lifting, boxing, wrestling, prelim rounds – TD garden would host final events. – the major venue for the waterfront stadium by the Aquarium or in the Charles River would be 90,000 seat stadium with retractable roof so it could be used in the winter for concerts, and other events. – and would be converted into a new fenway park to replace the old fenway once its beyond its years.- Perhaps the Revolution Soccer stadium could also have a track with it and could be used for track and field as well) at Assembly Row in Somerville by the Assembly Row T station. Its all very doable…. There’ll be a lot of new hotels and developments in the coming years TD garden , Govtr Center, New hotels could be built at Lechemere by the “T” Station ….a couple vacant lots at Andrew Square, maybe a new hotel and tower condo/complex and city hall office space, with mixed use shopping/retail and redesign of city hall plaza…., the government center towers, and the new TD garden towers as well as Aassembly Row. and perhaps even the East Boston Waterfront might have som enew hotels too. it is all very doable. Most of the venues would be walkable , bikeable, and or a short cab ride away from the hotels or “T” ride. New transit lines and improvements like the North South Rail Link , the Red-Blue connector, the indigo line and maybe even the gold line (urban ring) might help in the transit. maybe some new ferries as well. It would be less costly than Sochi and other games because we already have most of the space and venues in place we’d mainly need the OLYMPIC STADIUM and Athletes village which would be the big construction. most of the other things would involve smaller projects and/or renovations of existing venues.

  • Jeff Dearman

    Uhm actually the Summer olympics is more feasible . and would revitalize the city economy by making new greenways new developments/neighborhoods sprucing up rundown areas..and creating new parklands and openj space as well as new venues.. I am sure Boston could do it right so that it wouldn’t cost so much and would use the space after the olympics was open Boston is good at planning like that. Anj olympics would also spark repairs to the MBTA, infrastructure and new transit improvements. which are much needed. A olympics would bring in tons of visitors and would create a new neighborhood in Boston and a new sports , event venue…it would create new development that otherwise would have stalled and more hotels/jobs etc. etc. etc. and construction jobs. It would be a win win for Boston.

  • Jeff Dearman

    Boston’s venues would be spread out across the city and region allowing peopel to get a taste of the area and also visit places….around the city most of the venues would be bikeable or walkwable .. or public transit . shuttle busses could run during the olympics as well as water taxis…

  • Jeff Dearman

    We could promote the games as a walkable olympics transit olympics – where people could use greenways and new greenways and designated walking routes to walk between venue areas or take public transit. etc. we would highjlyt the history of the region and highlight sights for people to see. Boston is a walkable city and that would be showcased through the “Olympic Zone” from Kenmore Square to the Waterfront and SOuth Boston. as well as the Greenway.. perhaps new projects like the Blue-Red connector could get done as well as the Green line to West medford, or maybe even Woburn, and maybe the north South rail link, perhaps a redesign of City hall plaza could take place as well and creation of the Boston Museum and Cultural Center.

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