Listen to the Discussion
As Boston tops the list of potential locations for the 2024 Olympics, it raises questions about escalating costs, infrastructure improvements, and the city’s ability to accommodate and transport thousands of visitors—all while ensuring long-term benefits for residents.
While the topic is controversial, there was one thing everyone agreed on—Boston’s public transit system needs fixing.
“We have an MBTA that is not reliable and over capacity. We have an international airport with terrible public transit,” said James Aloisi, a principal in the Pemberton Square Group and former secretary of transportation in Massachusetts. “If we don’t have the will and the political courage and the capacity to deal with these issues, then we have no business being here talking about hosting an Olympics,” he said.
Transportation was a major concern for Jeanne Dubois, the strategic advisor for the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation in North Dorchester, as well. She cautioned that that we need to think long-term and ensure that local neighborhoods and businesses benefit, not just the Olympics. “We need to see community benefits agreements,” she said.
DuBois also suggested that the Olympics may help improve and expand Boston housing. “Displaced residents in an overheated market is a major problem today,” she said, noting that her own son recently moved out of Boston to find more affordable housing.
Chris Dempsey, who co-chairs the No Boston Olympics group, doesn't think the Olympics will create nearly enough housing to have a substantial impact. He argued that it wouldn't come close to Mayor Marty Walsh’s goal of 53,000 new housing units by 2030. "The Olympic village is a teaspoon when the recipe calls for a gallon,” he said.
Dempsey also pointed out that every Olympics since 1960 has had significant cost overruns. He cautioned that the public could be left with a huge bill for hosting the games.
Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey rebutted that although past games did go over budget, the last three U.S. games ultimately resulted substantial in revenues. The LA games turned a profit of $250 million dollars, and Atlanta made about $10 million. Salt Lake made over $100 million, $50 million of which they returned back to the state of Utah and the city of Salt Lake City, he said.
"We have put forward a bid that is cost prudent, that relies heavily on existing facilities across the city, and frankly, across the state that looks to opportunities to leverage what we already have here—Gillette Stadium, TD Garden, Harvard University Stadium," Davey said. He suggested that the Olympics offers a unique opportunity to help existing business expand and offer more job opportunities.
Peter Zuk, an internationally recognized construction expert who helped plan London Olympics, highlighted the importance of establishing a governance system and involving stakeholders early on in the planning process. And, as he reflected on Boston's central artery tunnel project, he noted that the power of the vision should not be underestimated."We have a very rich human capital in accomplishing big visions," he said.
Regardless of whether or not Boston wins the bid, this an opportunity to make investments and prompt real change in the city, Davey said. This is a "conversation about where we want to be as a region in 2030 and beyond, and how the Olympics can help us get there," he added.
The event was moderated by NECN Business Editor Peter Howe. It was part of the Building Boston 2030 series, which addresses Boston development and public policies that can help the city create good jobs, maintain a skilled workforce, and attract private capital.