It’s only been about 50 days since the United States Olympic Committee officially named Boston as America’s bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Yet it was quite apparent at Tuesday morning’s NAIOP Massachusetts’ Breakfast Panel that Boston 2024 has settled on its pitch to the public: The quest to host the Games is all about “the future of Boston”. The phrase repeated over and over at the event (entitled 2024 Olympics: Vision, Opportunity and a Catalyst for Change) was “2030 and beyond.” As in, “This isn’t about those 30 days in the summer of 2024, it’s about what we want our city to look like in 2030 and beyond.”
Moderator Tom Alperin, President of National Development, remarked, “We can win by losing,” meaning that Boston will benefit from a fierce debate over infrastructure and sustainably whether we’re awarded the games or not. That sentiment was echoed by panelists Rich Davey, CEO of Boston 2024 and former Mass. Secretary of Transportation; David Manfredi of Elkus-Manfredi Architects; David Nagahiro of CBT Architects and Stephen Thomas of VHB. However, winning, as Manfredi noted, is the name of the game.
This was a coming out party of sorts for Davey, who was only recently named CEO of the effort to submit Boston’s bid to the International Olympic Committee. He’s pledging that ours would be a new type of Olympics: Sustainable, largely privately-financed with no cost overruns, and that leaves a positive legacy. He cited a quarter of a billion dollars in foundation grants that have been handed out by Los Angeles over the past 31 years, financed by their hosting the 1984 games. That’s the type of legacy the Boston Games would leave, Davey insists, not the fraud, waste and abuse the anti-Olympics crowd argues would cripple the region.
It was Manfredi’s presentation that focused on real estate: in this case, potential Olympic venues. One of the reasons Boston was chosen to represent America (over New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco) was the viability of hosting the most “walkable” Olympic Games in history, with 28 of the 33 proposed venues within a 10 kilometer radius and an average of 5.3 kilometers between each venue. The Olympic Village, which must house 16,000 individuals, would be built on Columbia Point, which is currently home to UMass Boston. About 5,000-6,000 of those beds would later become UMass student dorms, helping to satisfy the school’s goal of adding student residences. The remainder would be transformed into affordable and workforce housing, helping Mayor Walsh achieve his goal of 53,000 units of new housing by 2030.
David Nagahiro, whose firm CBT is focused on the village, underscored the concept of a sustainable games when he noted that, “UMass students are interchangeable with Olympic athletes” in benefitting from modern dorms and amenities overlooking Boston Harbor and the Harbor Islands. It’s this type of development that would help transform the University, typically thought of as a commuter school, into a more residential campus. Nagahiro, who recently visited London and Barcelona to speak with former Olympic officials there, gushed about long-term benefits enjoyed by the former Olympic hosts. Back in Boston, infrastructure improvements would also mean UMass students would enjoy a new transportation “Superhub” at the JFK-UMass Stop along the MBTA’s Red Line.
Moving 635,000 athletes, media, staff, volunteers and spectators between the city’s two Olympic “Clusters” (A Waterfront Cluster downtown and a University Cluster encompassing M.I.T., Harvard and B.U.) is Thomas’ and VHB’s domain. He insisted that Boston proves its ability to host multiple, massive events annually with the Boston Marathon and a morning Red Sox game every Patriots Day. While the MBTA is currently is crisis mode, everyone on the panel agreed that the T must be a catalyst for moving this bid forward and that public transportation is the key to economic opportunity and growth. While not as “sexy” as new train cars, Davey pointed out that signal and power systems, along with capacity improvements, would benefit Greater Boston long after the games are gone. The numbers being cited by Boston 2024 are $5 billion in transportation investment already underway and an additional $5 billion planned. However, some of those numbers were called into question in a Boston Globe article that came out the same morning as the panel.
In 2017, Boston will find out if its quest to host the games was successful. If it is, it could mean beach volleyball on the Boston Common and Olympic baseball at Fenway Park, not to mention more than 600,000 visitors to our city over a 30 day stretch. But for those looking to make the games a reality, clearly 2024 would be just the beginning.