Olympic Organizers Reconsidering Boston Common Beach Volleyball Idea

The proposed beach volleyball venue on Boston Common.
The proposed beach volleyball venue on Boston Common. –REUTERS

Boston 2024 is giving second thoughts to its proposal to hold beach volleyball events on Boston Common, a part of the Olympic bidding group’s plans that has faced some criticism.

“While I think we have done a poor job of explaining the mitigation and protection that we would bring to the Common, we’re also taking a hard look now at other venues,’’ Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey told Boston.com.

The beach volleyball idea was a complaint of multiple attendees at a recent city-hosted meeting about the bid. Community groups, like the Friends of the Public Garden, have also said they are against the plan. Davey said he has also heard from residents from Beacon Hill and the Back Bay, where he lives, who have said they do not like the idea. Critics say they are worried about the long-term effects a venue could have on the park, and the expectation that its presence could bar the public from accessing it during the summer of 2024.

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“It’s an example of where we paused,’’ Davey said. “At this point, we are considering alternative sites.’’

Davey did not name other possible spots for a volleyball site. The bidding documents Boston 2024 presented to the U.S. Olympic Committee last year—and released to the public in January—did not list a backup venue for beach volleyball, which would be played in a temporary venue. Boston 2024’s website lists two suggestions for alternative venues from residents—one north of the city and one south—in Nahant Beach and Marina Bay.

A change in venue is no sure thing, and if one is made it would come down the line, following Boston 2024’s series of public meetings in the city and across the state. It would be made in coordination with city and USOC officials. Alternatively, the group could still go forward with the Boston Common idea. The next draft of the bid is not due to the International Olympic Committee until next January. The IOC won’t choose a city until 2017, and venues can still be changed after that.

However, Davey said a possible venue change would be in keeping with what Boston 2024 has been saying since before his January hiring.All plans to this point are preliminary, and community input will play a role in developing them as the process moves forward. “Boston 2024 had no conception whatsoever that what we put out a month ago would be the exact (Olympic) plan,’’ he said.

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Davey talked about the possibility of a beach volleyball venue shift as part of a broader discussion about how public input could affect the Olympic bid.

Bid adjustments may not just be based on moving away from unpopular ideas; venues could be shifted to areas of the region or the state that express interest or make more sense as things develop. “Some communities are saying, ‘Hey, think about us,’’’ Davey said. As an example, rowing could be moved from its current proposed location—the Merrimack River—to the Deerfield River in the western part of the state.

Western Massachusetts, the birthplace of basketball and volleyball, and home to their respective halls of fame, has also been cited as a possible spot for preliminary games for those sports. “We’d be crazy not to engage those two facilities,’’ Davey said.

Those plans came out following a meeting between Boston 2024 officials and the state’s congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who serves Western Massachusetts, told The Republican: “I want to make sure (the Olympic bid) is not a Boston-centric public improvements program.’’

But involving all of Massachusetts in the Olympic plans goes beyond venue selection, Davey said. Other parts of the state could serve as hosts for teams and athletes as they arrive ahead of the Olympics for practice, and the Cultural Olympiad—a series of arts and culture events that accompany every Olympics—would likely cover all of Massachusetts.

Davey said that in addition to neighborhood and regional input, Boston 2024 will also listen to what athletes have to say as it adjusts the bid. For example, he said, it would be easier to move rowing to Deerfield, which would put its participants well outside Greater Boston—despite the games having been often touted as “walkable’’—if the International Rowing Federation thought it would be a better spot. He said it would be “a balancing act’’ to stay true to the Boston-centric vision while considering moving venues to other parts of the state.

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Some plans would be harder to shift than others, Davey said, such as the proposed Olympic Stadium site at Widett Circle and the Athletes Village on and around UMass Boston’s campus. “While we definitely have articulated alternatives, those are our preferred venues,’’ Davey said, due to their “size, proximity to each other, (and the) look and feel of the games themselves.’’ Boston 2024’s plans are split into two “clusters,’’ one of which is centered on Harvard and the other highlighted by the proposed stadium space. To move the stadium—Suffolk Downs is listed as an alternative spot—would require a broad rethinking of much of the entire plan.

Boston 2024 has already dropped one idea from its original plan, which suggested that landlords could coordinate to use nine-month leases in areas with significant off-campus student housing in the leasing year ahead of the Olympics, thus clearing out space for spectators. The idea stoked fears of residential displacement and was criticized upon the release of the bidding documents. A couple of weeks later, Boston 2024 said it was getting rid of it. “We decided, ‘On second thought, we agree, let’s move on,’’’ Davey said.

When it comes to choosing new venue sites, for beach volleyball or anything else, Davey said Boston 2024 would first engage neighborhood and political leaders to see whether they are receptive to the idea and go from there. “The bid process is what it is, but some folks felt like it was sprung upon them,’’ he said. “The idea (now) is to be able to take people’s temperature first. If it’s an automatic, ‘You’re out of your mind,’ the last thing we’d want to do is float a proposal that is even worse,’’ he said.

Davey acknowledged that Boston 2024 did not always do so in preparing the plans it submitted to the USOC. The lack of public input in drafting the original plans caused critics to complain about a lack of transparency in the bidding process. And some landowners in places Boston 2024 currently hopes to build said they were not contacted by the group—despite bidding documents saying they were.

“People in Massachusetts expect public processes to be both early and often. Well, we weren’t early, but we’re going to be often,’’ he said, referring to a recently announced plan to hold 20 community meetings across the state over a 20-week period. Most immediately, Boston 2024 is holding its second Boston “citizens advisory group’’ meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, at the Yawkey Club in Roxbury.

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