Behind Closed Doors, Boston Has Nearly Secured a US Olympic Bid Whether You Like It Or Not

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Reuters Photo

The United States Olympic Committee was in Boston Tuesday and you weren’t invited.

But hey, what else is new?

We’re but two months away from the USOC’s decision on which American city – San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, or Boston – will become its nominee for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games, and frankly, things are getting frightening.

On Tuesday, Boston – or should we more accurately say, a handful of select Boston interests – hosted the USOC at MIT’s Media Lab and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the final meetings before the Olympic committee makes its final decision on a U.S. representative to present to the International Olympic Committee, which will announce the host city for the 2024 Games in 2017.

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In other words, Boston is thisclose to being a serious contender to host the Olympic Games a decade from now, a promise that the majority of the Hub’s citizens seem to be magnificently against, yet with no say whatsoever.

Tuesday was just another example.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s yet another closed-door meeting where decisions are being made and promises are being made without any public input,” said Chris Dempsey, co-chair of No Boston Olympics, a group formed to object to the city’s pursuit of the Games. “It’s sad that the boosters can find time to host the USOC and have a fancy lunch but not hold a public meeting to get public input.”

Among those who attended were MIT President L. Rafael Reif, Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, and the Berklee College of Music Choir. From what we can gather out of the scant news coverage of the meetings, there were fewer than 100 people that attended the lunch at MIT. That’s fewer than 100 people representing a monumental undertaking that will affect millions and cost 10 times that amount.

“It’s in the boosters’ interests to keep this very quiet until it’s too late to turn back,” Dempsey said. “So it’s to their benefit to have closed door meetings and not have a public process.”

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(Update, 6:05 p.m.: The Boston 2024 committee responded to this piece with the following statement:

“On Tuesday, five members of the USOC visited Boston as part of their due diligence in considering possible cities to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston is in a competition with Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. and USOC members have visited all four cities several times as they consider bids. Tuesday’s visit is another step in a long, comprehensive process. They met with several elected officials, including Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Gov. Deval Patrick, as well as leaders of business, education, finance and sports. Several students, community members and Massachusetts Olympians also participated. It was an exciting event and we are honored to have had the USOC back in Boston.

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“Hosting the Olympics would yield incredible long-term benefits for Boston, including transportation and infrastructure improvements, major investments and upgrades to our world-class universities and funding for youth sports and other community programs, as well as once-in-a-lifetime economic development and urban planning opportunities. There is certainly a great deal of work left to be done and we are following the USOC’s process. If Boston is fortunate enough to be selected, there will be a full community review of the plans before any final decisions are made.”)

Dempsey is one of four self-described young professionals in their 30’s who were all raised locally and look forward to raising families in the Boston area. “As we look 10 years ahead to a potential Boston Games, we really see it as a costly distraction from much more important priorities,” he said, citing school and health care systems and preserving open spaces as the core arguments against the time and financial investment spent on Boston 2024.

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“All things that are less sexy than an Olympic Games, but far more important to the people that live in Massachusetts,” he said.

So why has there been no public discourse on the matter? The answer is as simple as it is transparent. This despite the fact that Fish, who stands the most to gain and thus is head cheerleader of the local effort, told the Globe last month that there would be public neighborhood meetings to discuss not only the Games, but the nifty 3-D model that Boston 2024 organizers created in order to win over skeptics. The story even made A1 on Oct. 8. The model cost $1.5 million to create, money raised through private donations.

One-point-five-million for a glorified version of Sim City. Certainly the group’s modest estimates of what it would cost to host the Games could never get out of hand.

The public meetings Fish discussed never transpired. Of course.

“It’s the boosters’ strategy to keep this under wraps and behind closed doors until it’s too late for us to say, ‘no’”, Dempsey said. “Once the USOC names Boston as the sole US bid, there will be immense pressure from national interests to host the games in Boston, and those interests do not have incentives that are aligned with Massachusetts voters and Massachusetts taxpayers.”

That means that powerful, international businesses will be letting the IOC know in every way they can that Boston is the nominee it would prefer over the other handful of cities figured to submit bids around the world. Broadcast rightsholder NBC will drool over the prospects of an East Coast time zone Olympic Games, while corporations like Nike and McDonald’s will surely relay the fact to the IOC that it will have been 28 years since a Summer Games visited the U.S. (Atlanta, 1996) and their billion dollar marketing investments in an American Games just might go a little further.

Meanwhile, portions of the city will need to be shut down, creating negative impacts on local businesses and organizations. But at least McDonald’s can get the word out that they have a new McNuggets deal.

“We’re going to wake up in January and realize that Boston is the sole US bid and that all of a sudden there are these other interests that want us to host the Games and will not be paying for the cost overruns,” Dempsey said, “will not be the ones who are living through the development of the Games and the hosting of the Games, but will benefit from them.

“None of those interests will be footing the bill for this extravagant party.”

It’s a party that already has some interesting twists. Conveniently, yesterday’s Globe outlined New England Patriots and Revolution owner Bob Kraft’s plan for a soccer-specific stadium in South Boston that just so happened to make headlines on the day the USOC was in town. According to the article, “the Frontage Road location is adjacent to an industrial area that the group organizing Boston’s efforts to host the 2024 Summer Olympics had identified as a potential location for the main Olympics stadium. Kraft is also a member of the Olympics group.”

Oh.

But the No Boston Olympics Group, so far at least, applauds Kraft’s plan for a Revolution stadium, so long as it’s privately financed and doesn’t come with a hitch.

“In some ways, Mr. Kraft’s proposal actually exposes the weaknesses and laws in the Boston 2024 bid,” Dempsey said. “At least withMr. Kraft’s proposal, he’s talking about a stadium that will have a use after the games, whereas Boston 2024 is advocating to build a 60,000-person stadium and then tear down right after, which is far more wasteful. If Mr. Kraft can propose a stadium that doesn’t require taxpayer dollars and he wants to move forward with that, then we’re supportive of that effort. We think that it actually is a great contrast to to the misaligned incentives and requirements for taxpayers dollars that are incumbent on a 2024 bid.”

Kraft’s stadium plan would look to seat about 18,000-22,000 fans, far too small for Olympic concerns. There is the possibility that Kraft could build a 60,000-seat stadium on the site, and then much like was done in London, have the seating reduced to a more manageable audience for Major League Soccer purposes.

Problem is, as Dempsey pointed out, the cost of converting the stadium has been more than $200 million, to be completed in 2016, at which time the West Ham United Football Club will call the former Olympic Stadium its home.

Taxpayers footed the bill.

“That is not a proposal that we would support in Massachusetts,” Dempsey said. “If Mr. Kraft wants to pay for it in private dollars, and no risk of cost overrun being borne by the public that’s one thing. It’s very different if it gets wrapped into a Boston 2024 proposal where taxpayers are on the hook.”

They will be anyway, in one shape of form. Not that they have any say.

The Boston 2024 pursuit remains a complete sham, one that’s very near to becoming a reality.

Boston could very well host the Olympic Games.

Be afraid.

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