By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Hosting the 2024 summer Olympic Games in Boston would be "feasible" and potentially dovetail well with the state's long-term infrastructure and housing goals, but would also require a significant investment of public and private capital, a special commission found.
The 11-member panel, set up by the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick to examine the possibility of becoming a host city to the Olympics, wrapped up its work on Thursday after about two-and-a-half months spent examining the infrastructure, venue capacity, security requirements and marketing resources available for a possible host city bid.
The commission voted 8-0 to accept the final report with an amendment including a new paragraph in the body of the report about the Paralympics. Two members were absent and Jonah Beckley, appointed to the commission by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, abstained because he now works for Sen. Stephen Brewer
"I don't think anyone should jump to the conclusion that we're going to be hosting the 2024 Olympics. I think what we have to do we have to undertake a thorough analysis of the costs and benefits that can be produced out of hosting this Olympics. Even that conversation has tremendous currency to all of us as taxpayers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," said John Fish, the CEO of Suffolk Construction who chaired the commission.
While the report found that hosting the Olympics in Greater Boston would be feasible, the panel did not explicitly recommend a bid. Instead, the report calls for the creation of a non-profit that could bring together leaders in the business community and from universities and government to take a closer look at the costs, venue and infrastructure needs and public and private interest in partnering for an Olympic bid.
"I think what we need to do now is bring together a group of people that are interested in putting some money on the table but also willing to have the conversation about the implications of hosting the Olympics in the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Fish said.
Fish said for the effort to be successful the private sector would have to be willing to "put some skin in the game."
"I'd love to be involved. I don't think it's really determined whether I'm going to lead that effort or not. I have a reasonable amount of history with the study so far, but to me this is very, very important," Fish said.
Fish also said any investments in the Olympic games would have to have a "100 percent legacy benefit" to Massachusetts.
Though the panel said it would have been impossible to thoroughly examine the cost of hosting the Olympics without getting into a detailed analysis of needed venues and other projects, the exploration of a possible Olympics bid prompted a few opponents to create a group called No Boston Olympics.
The group estimated a Boston Olympics could cost $10 billion to $20 billion, and circulated a letter from the United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun to potential host city applicants, pegging the baseline operating cost at $3 billion, not including venue construction or other infrastructure.
"In a vacuum, anything is feasible when you're not discussing costs," said No Boston Olympics member Conor Yunits. "It's unfortunate that they didn't address cost given that it was in the legislation and we think there is a baseline established by the Olympic Committee that $3 billion plus infrastructure plus construction is the minimum so we really stand by our estimate that this is going to cost anywhere from $10 billion to $20 billion for the state and we think there are better things to spend our money on."
Already home to multiple professional sports organizations, the commission report noted that Massachusetts already has 14 major soccer stadiums, 10 major arenas, nine major baseball venues, two horse tracks, five basketball venues, 20 "premier" track and field venues and over 235 miles of cycling paths and trails.
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston could also potentially be used as a media center, according to the report.
The state, however, lacks four of the most elemental venues for hosting a summer Olympics, including an 80,000 seat Olympic stadium, an Olympic village, an Olympic-scale velodrome or an Olympic-scale aquatics center.
"The density and degree of development in downtown Boston make securing 80 to100 acre sites for the Stadium and Village a major challenge (although any major US city would likely face the same challenge)," the report found. "With enough support for the Olympics and collaboration among residents, business, local governments, universities and real estate owners, Boston could likely find a few locations that could accommodate the Stadium and Village."
The panel also suggested that some of the housing or sports venues could be modular so that they could be taken down or repurposed after the games if there is not a need or interest for the facilities after the international athletes are gone.
"This would be a huge undertaking and we need, paramountly, to put forth a very responsible budget and that budget would entail, for the most part, a lot of involvement from the public and more important the private sector, private sector investment," Fish said.
Greater Boston already has 51,000 hotel rooms, more than the 45,000 required by the International Olympic Committee for a host city, and the report argues that the creation of additional athlete housing could link nicely with former Mayor Thomas Menino's plan to create 30,000 additional units of housing in the city by 2020.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, the Lowell Democrat who filed the legislation that created the commission, called it "an incredible experience" to work on the project and said the final report was both "thorough and complete."
The United States Olympic Committee says it has roughly two years to consider whether to submit a bid for the 2024 games, and could whittle the list of finalist cities by the end of the year. Blackmun said in his letter that New York and Chicago spent upwards of $10 million for the domestic bid process as they sought to host the 2012 and 2016 games, respectively, but that the USOC was trying to move toward a "more efficient process" this time.