Transparency, Costs, Benefits Debated at Boston Olympics Forum

–AP

For the first time in a public setting, the bid for Boston to host the 2024 Olympics was debated Monday night at a Boston Globe forum held at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Fittingly, much of the discussion focused on the public process to this point in the initiative to bring the Games here.

Juliette Kayyem, a former state homeland security undersecretary who is working with the Boston 2024 Partnership, and Chris Dempsey, a former state transportation official and co-chair for the No Boston Olympics committee, sat with Globe Opinion staffers Dante Ramos and Joanna Weiss to discuss and debate the merits of the proposal. (The Boston Globe is owned by Boston Globe Media Partners, which also owns Boston.com.)

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Dempsey, who has argued that Boston’s bid for the Games has not adequately involved the public, pressed for further transparency, challenging Boston 2024 and other bidding U.S. cities to publicly release their proposals. Groups from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. are vying to host the 2024 Summer Games as well. No Boston Olympics has previously called for the Boston proposal to be released, appealing to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to back the demand last week.

Kayyem said releasing the bid would affect Boston 2024’s “competitive advantage’’ in the process.

She also said the bid—which are said to include a temporary Olympic stadium in South Boston and makes use of venues such as Harvard Stadium and TD Garden—does not represent a finalized plan, just an initial pitch to the United States Olympic Committee. The only “permanent decision,’’ she said, is the one to compete for the U.S. bid. Kayyem said she has not seen the full Boston plans, but only the parts she is involved in which focus on technology and innovation. Dempsey saw this as grounds for further criticism—“So even a member of Boston 2024’s executive committee hasn’t read the bid,’’ he said—but Kayyem suggested it was evidence that it’s still early in the bidding process.

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The USOC is expected to choose whether to move forward with one of the four U.S. bids by January. As Boston 2024 has said before, Kayyem said the group would further involve the public if the USOC chooses the Boston plan, at which point it would be poised to advance to the International Olympic Committee.

“Give us the opportunity to present that vision,’’ Kayyem said.

Dempsey countered by saying the group should have presented that vision before submitting it to the USOC. “It’s really not credible for Boston 2024 to tell us, ‘Give us a chance,’’’ he said.

Asked whether she thought Boston 2024 should have been more open with the public to this point, Kayyem said no. She said the group has been open to the press and has worked with elected officials. In an interview with media members following the discussion, she pointed to legislative hearings—which were used to determine the feasibility of the bid—held in the last year, and a meeting held by activists to plan protests against the bid last month, as indicative of a public process. (Some of those activists were on-hand in protest outside the event Monday night.)

Kayyem said Boston 2024 is committed to hosting the Olympics without public funds for the Game’s operating costs, and said that an insurance policy could help to protect the public from picking up the tab in the event of a cost overrun. She added the USOC and the IOC, which on Monday approved of new guidelines for host cities that could deflate the cost of the Olympics, have come into alignment with the lower-cost principle. “They’re focusing on an Olympics that is sustainable, that is durable, and that is focused on the future,’’ Kayyem said.

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The walkability of Boston and the use of existing venues could both serve to advance those goals, she said.

Asked by Dempsey whether Boston 2024 would support a ballot initiative prohibiting public spending on the Games, Kayyem said she could not speak for the organization in responding to that query.

Kayyem also argued the visibility of the Olympics could help to grow Boston’s tourism industry long-term, and that a concrete deadline of 2024 could help the state and the city achieve infrastructure goals. Kayyem drew several parallels between the Boston bid and the 2012 London Games, saying there were lessons to be learned from the city’s difficulties in terms of transportation and security planning, but that its use of compact city space could be replicated in Boston.

Prior to the event, as of 6:30 p.m., about 30 protesters rallied against the bid outside the ICA. Some criticized Boston 2024 for not involving the public further—“No input, no shot put,’’ they chanted)—while others said they were concerned about the effect security measures taken in advance of the Olympics could have on civil liberties.

And others said they thought the Olympics would take away from the state’s ability to focus on other priorities, such as housing and healthcare. Dempsey later brought up this perceived “opportunity cost’’ in the discussion, to which Kayyem replied: “We can chew gum and rub our bellies at the same time.’’

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