City Councilors Raise Concerns About Boston's Olympics Bid

John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024, answers a question Friday during the first Boston City Council meeting on the city's bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024, answers a question Friday during the first Boston City Council meeting on the city's bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

City Council members raised concerns Friday about Boston's bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

During the first of what is expected to be a series of hearings on the bid, council members said they will be looking to see what impact the plan would have on the city's neighborhoods.

A number voiced concerns about the games running over budget, forcing city taxpayers to foot the bill, while some called out organizers for lack of transparency as they developed their proposal, largely out of the public eye.

Others wondered whether an Olympics push would divert precious energy and resources from more important work, like improving schools.

"Boston doesn't need to host the Olympics to be a world-class city," Councilor Michelle Wu said bluntly.

Councilor Josh Zakim was among those who picked on specific proposals in the bid, saying his Beacon Hill constituents are not interested in seeing beach volleyball played on the city's beloved Common, as organizers have proposed.

Councilor Tito Jackson raised the specter of shiny new sporting venues displacing low-income residents and gentrifying working-class neighborhoods.

He suggested that was the case in Atlanta after it hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics.

John Fish, chairman of the Boston 2024 group that is developing the proposal, stressed that plans are still in the preliminary stages and will change as the public weighs in during numerous community and council meetings.

"This should be about where we want to be as a city in 2030, 2040 and beyond," he said. "This should be a catalyst for driving needed improvements."

Boston needs to submit its final proposal to the International Olympic Committee in January 2016. The IOC is expected to choose a host city in 2017.

Rome is among the international cities officially in the running. Paris and cities in Germany and South Africa are also weighing bids.

Friday's nearly four-hour hearing was largely dedicated to hearing from council members and Boston 2024 organizers, who laid out their vision of hosting one of the most affordable and walkable games of modern times.

Most of members of the public who testified voiced concerns.

Chris Dempsey, a co-chairman of the No Boston Olympics opposition group, said boosters are overstating the benefits and understating the risks to taxpayers.

"The boosters' hope is that the glittery sales pitch of the Olympics will distract the city from doing its due diligence on the most significant contract it would sign this century," he said. "The track record of the Olympics is that they leave local economies no better off."

David Manfredi, Boston 2024's chief architect and planner, promised the games would produce no "white elephants," referencing the abandoned stadiums and sports facilities that now dot other former host cities.

Boston's proposal calls for construction of a temporary Olympic Stadium and athlete housing that would become dorms for the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

It would involve iconic city landmarks like Fenway Park and Boston Harbor and the region's renowned colleges and universities like Harvard and MIT.

Richard Davey, the group's CEO, said the games would cost roughly $9 billion, of which $4.7 billion in operating costs would come from broadcast revenues, sponsorships and ticket sales, while $1 billion in security costs would hopefully be covered by the federal government.

"We're not asking for a blank check," he said. "We're not putting forward a bid that would bankrupt the city."

This article was originally published on March 06, 2015.


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