Opinion » Guest Opinion

The Race for Boston 2024

by . .
Wednesday Feb 11, 2015

Boston is abuzz about the pitch to land the 2024 Olympics, led by Boston 2024. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will make the final decision in 2017. Mayor Marty Walsh has announced a series of public meetings and, if the first public meeting (of nine) last week at Suffolk Law School was any indication, the race has already begun in earnest. The presence of Mayor Walsh at the meeting, and his commitment to stay until the last question was answered, gives a real indication as to his level of seriousness about the effort. Though Boston 2024 efforts preceded his election to mayor, Walsh has rightfully embraced the effort-if for no other reason than he cannot be a bystander while plans for the city's future are being made.

Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish used the word transformative several times as he addressed the audience of about 300, representing many of Boston neighborhoods. Fish described the games as an opportunity to "create the city we want". He gave statistics on the U.S. cities that have hosted the games including a point that not one of them ended in a deficit. The last, Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, posted a 250M profit and the Summer Olympics nearly double the participating nations, he said.

Audience members asked officials to sign a commitment not to use public funds for Olympic expenses and officials agreed they would. In the lead up to the meetings, there has been much discussion about what constitutes "public funds".

As a point of reference, the $30M taxpayers spent on Route 1 to Gillette Stadium for the New England Patriots in 2009 and the $170M taxpayers spent on Kenmore Square transportation for Red Sox (Phase One just completed) were clearly expenditures needed to make life better for the sports teams-which are private companies. That taxpayer money was not considered public funds because, political leaders argue, the infrastructure fixes were needed, regardless of the effect the repairs had on private businesses.

Boston 2024 has stated that $5.3 billion in taxpayer money is already in the state budget for infrastructure improvements. In other words, this $5.3 billion in will be spent with or without an Olympics. So it transforms from "public funding" to "funding", and its availability undoubtedly enhances Boston's 2024 position.

Several audience members spoke of the desire to have a ballot referendum which would allow Boston residents a vote on the matter. Boston 2024 and more importantly, the Mayor, would be well advised to focus on answering these questions before any vote is taken.

It's surprising that there weren't more questions about what happens after the games end. The history of purging of the poor and minorities to make room for the games is shared by London, Sochi, Atlanta and LA. An article on London's 2012 experience called it 'cleansing'. Boston already has a head start. It's called gentrification! If Boston can avoid this, 2024 will surely be transformative. Let the games begin!

Information on Boston 2024: www.2024Boston.org
The next meeting: February 24, 6:30 p.m. - Condon School Cafeteria, 200 D St., South Boston

Dianne Wilkerson is the president of New Day Services, Inc. and is the former 2nd Suffolk District state senator