What the Heck Is Happening With the Boston Olympic Bid?

–Eric Silva, Boston.com Staff

Over the course of the last several months, there’s been a lot of talk about the proposed 2024 Olympic Games in Boston. And now that the United States Olympic Committee has chosen Boston as its 2024 representative, all the chatter is unlikely to die down any time soon. Here’s what you need to know.

Wait, so we might host the Olympics?

Correct.

Boston 2024, the organizing committee behind Boston’s Olympic push, submitted a bid to host the 2024 Games to the United States Olympic Committee in December.

In addition to Boston 2024, groups from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. sought the USOC’s approval. The four cities were on the shortlist of candidates whittled down by the USOC in June of 2014.

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The USOC met with each of the groups on Dec. 16, and voted that day that it would bid to host in 2024 with one of the cities. On Jan. 8, the committee selected Boston.

What happens next?

The USOC will begin working with Boston 2024 to cross the t’s, dot the i’s, and make sure it wants to go all-in on the bid before submitting it to the International Olympic Committee, which governs the Olympics. (Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said after the city was selected that he did not foresee a situation in which the bid was not submitted.) Boston 2024 says the interim period will include public input—something critics say has been lacking to this point.

The initial submission of Boston’s bid to the IOC will be due in September of 2015, and candidate cities from around the world will then meet with the committee in October. What the USOC calls a “final’’ bid will be due in January of 2016—though there would still be a whole other portion of the bidding process over the year-plus after that.

The IOC will eventually choose a host in 2017. Other potential host cities for 2024 include (but are not limited to) Rome, Paris, a German city—either Berlin or Hamburg—Istanbul, Melbourne, and a South African city.

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Many Olympics observers have suggested the U.S.’s bid may be preferable to the IOC for 2024 because: (a) the Summer Olympics haven’t been held in the U.S. since 1996, in Atlanta; and (b) it’s possible that an Olympics in Boston could prove cheaper than in other places around the world, due to existing infrastructure. More on that second point in a bit.

What does the Boston bid entail?

It’s important to note that the bid to the USOC doesn’t represent a finalized plan for what a Boston Olympics would look like. It may well be adjusted as the IOC bid develops.

That said, there have been a number of details released about where venues could be located and how much the Games may cost.

Those plans, to this point, include a temporary Olympic stadium in South Boston, which would be built and then dismantled on either side of the Games. The reason why a bidding city would do this is explored here. They also include the use of existing sports venues like Harvard Stadium, TD Garden, and Gillette Stadium; the use of other city space for events—such as beach volleyball on the Common and equestrian events at Franklin Park; and an Olympic Village at UMass Boston. More details can be read here and you can see some early renderings here.

Boston 2024 says the Olympics could be paid for with about $4.5 billion in private funds—the money coming from sponsorships, donations to the cause, and other Games-related revenue. The group says necessary infrastructure improvements would likely cost another $5 billion, which would be on the public. Security is another major cost. It would likely be covered, for the most part, by the federal government.

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The city announced upon its selection that the bid includes an insurance policy of up to $25 million to protect Boston should it spend money it did not otherwise plan on spending for the Games.

Among other concerns, opponents think cost estimates are overly optimistic, and worry that overruns would fall on the public.

How’d Boston get involved in the first place?

The idea was hatched when a small group of young professionals first began pushing the idea in 2012. The two main players, Corey Dinopoulos and Eric Reddy, got together after they both reached out to the office of former Boston Mayor Tom Menino. Dinopoulos had put together a hypothetical Olympics bid for Boston as a college project.

Their idea picked up some traction, especially once it reached State Sen. Eileen Donoghue. The state formed a committee to look into the possibility of hosting the Games, and in early 2014, it released a report that said it was feasible.

Among the people on that committee was Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish. Fish and other business leaders also began pushing for the bid, loosely coordinating with Dinopoulos, Reddy, and their group. “When it would take six to 12 months to get something done (for us), (Fish) could pick up the phone in a matter of hours,’’ Dinopoulos told The Boston Business Journal in 2013.

The Boston 2024 Partnership—chaired by Fish—officially incorporated as a nonprofit in January of 2014 and took the lead on moving the proposal forward. Dinopoulos and Reddy are not employed by Boston 2024, but remain involved with the planning and are doing some work with the group.

Boston 2024 submitted its bid to the USOC on Dec. 1, drawing some criticism in the preceding weeks for not holding any public meetings about the proposal. Advocates say the bidding process is still in its early stages and that if Boston receives the USOC nod, there will be a public process ahead of the submission to the IOC. On Jan. 9, the city announced nine public meetings to discuss the bid, and Boston 2024 announced its first meeting as well.

Opponents argue that the public should have been consulted about bringing the idea to the point it’s at now and have called for the bid’s public release. No Boston Olympics, a group opposed to hosting the 2024 Games, scheduled a public meeting of its own following the USOC’s selection of Boston, and plans to keep fighting the bid.

Many elected officials have said they support the bid as a way to plan for the city’s future, including Walsh. Governor Charlie Baker did not present a clear opinion on whether the city should host the Olympics while on the campaign trail in the fall of 2014, but said he supports exploring the idea and was celebratory about Boston’s selection.

Is it a good idea?

Well, that’s the multi-billion-dollar (or so) question! It depends on who you ask, of course, and beyond that, it depends on how things would go.

Let’s state up front that there is little in the way of evidence that the Olympics bring the economic boom that is often associated with the event. Some economists have suggested that the tourism and spending that comes with hosting events like the Olympics or the World Cup would come anyway. Other studies have found that job growth associated with the Games isn’t all that strong—though that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. At the very least, the notion that the Games can drive economic growth is deserving of heavy skepticism.

There are other arguments for hosting the Olympics, if you’re so inclined. For one, there’s the notion that having a deadline could help the city get projects related to infrastructure and housing done on a set schedule. Boston may have a history with delayed projects, but in this case the 2024 date would be hard and fast. There has also been research that suggests that hosting major sporting events can have a positive effect on morale and happiness. Your mileage may vary on the value of that.

(See also: The Only Good Reason to Host the Olympics)

Dollars and cents, meanwhile, are tangible, and the Olympics of late don’t have a great track record in making them work out too well for host cities. Though some Olympics have proven profitable in the past, cost overruns are common if not inevitable.

So Boston 2024’s best argument for hosting may be the seeming interest the International Olympic Committee has in addressing that issue. The 2022 Winter Olympics have seen potential hosts drop like flies, afraid of the costs. The Sochi Olympics earlier this year cost a mind-boggling $50 billion. (The Sochi Games are not a great comparison for Boston because their Olympic setting was essentially built from scratch.)

The IOC released proposed reforms for the bidding process in November, which stressed ways to deflate the costs of the Games—such as the use of existing and temporary venues, and by making the bidding process itself cheaper. The proposal was adopted with gusto by the IOC on Dec. 8. The new guidelines are seen by many as a signal that organizers want to get away from Olympics that run deep in the red for their hosts, or well over budget. And if Boston 2024 thinks these Games can be done on the relative cheap, that optimism may be bolstered if the IOC itself is calling for such an operation.

But even assuming the finances all worked out as planned, opponents have another issue with the bid—the “opportunity costs.’’ Is it in the state’s and the city’s best interest, they ask, to spend the time and energy necessary to prepare for the Olympics when it could be put toward other priorities? And, for that matter, how would the rest of the state feel about all that time and energy going into a Boston-centric bid? Juliette Kayyem, a former state and federal official, and former gubernatorial candidate who is working with Boston 2024, dismissed the concern, saying at a Dec. 8 Boston Globe forum on the bid that the state “can chew gum and rub our bellies at the same time.’’

There are also concerns about how the construction and development the Olympics would require might affect neighborhoods, particularly from a gentrification perspective, and that security preparations would render Boston something of a police state. Boston 2024 says it is listening to the worries. “A lot of the issues that were raised were legitimate issues,’’ Rubin told Boston.com following a November meeting held by activists who oppose the bid.

Who’s involved in Boston 2024?

A lot of people at this point, and many of their names are familiar.

Among the names listed on the incorporating document for the bid is Dan O’Connell, who is the group’s president. He was—until very recently—the CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP), a nonprofit business and economic development group comprised of some of the state’s most powerful business names. (O’Connell is stepping down to focus full-time on the Olympic bid, The Boston Globe reported.)

Fish, meanwhile, is serving as the chair for Boston 2024. Three additional names appear on the incorporation paper: Patriots and Revolution owner Bob Kraft (who hasn’t taken a very public role in the effort), Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, and another Boston power player in former state official-turned-Bentley University President Gloria Larson. Kraft and Fish, like O’Connell, are part of the MACP.

Fish has pledged that Suffolk Construction will not bid for any construction contracts directly related to the Olympics. The Boston Herald reported that Fish will “continue to pursue contracts with state transportation and college building agencies that will likely oversee construction and upgrades ahead of the potential arrival of the world’s Olympians.’’

Other names involved with Boston 2024 are:

•Rubin, from Northwind

•Kayyem, the former Massachusetts homeland security undersecretary

•State Sen. Eileen Donoghue

•MassMutual CEO Roger Crandall

•Hill Holliday CEO Karen Kaplan

•Architect David Manfredi

•Former Deval Patrick Chief of Staff and interim U.S. Senator Mo Cowan

•Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis

There are more, including those listed here.

And then there’s the opposition…

That would be “No Boston Olympics,’’ a competing nonprofit whose goal is made pretty clear by its name. The group is led by three young-ish professionals. They are:

•Chris Dempsey, a former Assistant Secretary of Transportation for the state who now works as a consultant for Bain & Company

•Liam Kerr, a former campaign worker who now works as the Massachusetts director for public policy nonprofit Democrats for Education Reform

•Kelley Gossett Phillips, director of policy and advocacy for One Family, a nonprofit established to fight homelessness in Massachusetts

Conor Yunits, a local politico and senior vice president of public affairs for the communications consultancy Liberty Square Group, was also a co-chair of the group. But he now supports the Olympics, The Boston Globe reported on Dec. 10. Yunits says he feels No Boston Olympics succeeded in starting a discussion about transparency in the process, and told the Globe that he likes what he has heard about the bid.

No Boston Olympics was hopeful the USOC would not choose to move forward with the Boston plan, and is considering ways to further the fight now that it has. That could entail a ballot question for the 2016 election, the group has said.

In addition to the No Boston Olympics committee, other activists are also taking up arms against the idea, including veterans of protest groups like Occupy Boston who are organizing rallies and outreach initiatives.

The Boston Globe noted that San Francisco, D.C., and L.A. did not see the same sort of public bickering over their bids as we have. And Boston 2024 has stressed that we’re still pretty early in the process. But then again, this is Boston—where development plans always generate a lot of debate. What else would you expect, with an idea as big as the Olympics?

Note: This article has been updated several times since it was originally published to stay up-to-date.

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