What Boston’s Olympic Bid May (or May Not) Mean for a Revs Stadium

New England Revolution midfielder Jermaine Jones, left, celebrates with team owner Bob Kraft after the team won Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference last year.
New England Revolution midfielder Jermaine Jones, left, celebrates with team owner Bob Kraft after the team won Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference last year. –AP

The New England Revolution are reportedly looking to build a stadium in Boston, and the 2024 Summer Olympics may come to the city, too. These two ideas are kind of connected in a way. The Olympic crew is seeking to put up a stadium at Widett Circle in South Boston. The Revs, meanwhile, are interested in building on a separate parcel in the very same neighborhood, according to a November Boston Globe report. Another connection: Bob Kraft—the owner of the Revs (and that American football team that also plays out in Foxborough)—was a founding director of Boston 2024, the private group behind the Olympics bid.

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This has led to some speculation—here and here, for example—that the projects are one in the same. The gist: Let’s say Boston winds up hosting the 2024 Olympics. A big 60,000-seat Olympic Stadium would be built, and once the Olympics are over, the stadium would be converted into a smaller venue for the Revolution.

If Boston gets the Olympics, there will be a whole lot of sports-related development happening in the city and the region. Common sense would dictate that if they don’t already have a stadium ahead of that, the Revolution may well come out on the other side of a 2024 Olympics with a new home. But that doesn’t mean an Olympic Stadium would eventually become a home for the Revs. At a press conference last week, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the two projects separate, and he’s not the first one to say it.

One problem with the stadium conversion theory is that it stands in direct contrast with Boston 2024’s Olympic Stadium plan, calling for a temporary stadium at Widett Circle that would be taken down after the Games.

A wild idea? Maybe. The International Olympic Committee has said it will consider the use of temporary venues as a positive for future bids. We’ll see whether that edict will extend to the featured stadium at the heart of the proposal. From the organizers’ perspective, tough, there’s a big difference between a temporary stadium and a converted stadium, and it’s not just that the former ceases to exist once the Games run their course. Temporary venues have a major financial implication as well.

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The IOC does not allow Olympic organizing committees to spend Games-related money—a figure that includes the money the committee kicks in—on permanent stadiums. Temporary venues, however, may built with the operating budget because they are for the Games, not for the city. The Chicago Tribune explored this dynamic in 2007, when Chicago was bidding for the 2016 Olympics and also considered a temporary stadium, and The Boston Business Journal took a fresh look last year.

That’s the strategic reason behind a temporary stadium—it can be tucked within the organizing committee’s budget, and wouldn’t require either convincing a developer to build a stadium or sinking public money into one. Funding for a permanent stadium would need to come from outside that operating budget, be it from a third party (Kraft, maybe) or from public funds (which multiple parties have promised will not go toward Olympics venue construction).

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The use of a temporary stadium would necessitate that the Olympic and Revolution stadiums are separate. Walsh said as much at a press conference following Boston’s selection as the United States bid for 2024, and the BBJ reported the same from the Krafts’ camp in October:

Kraft spokesman Stacey James tried to put to rest any sort of connection between the Olympics and the Krafts’ prolonged soccer stadium quest. James tells me the Revs’ stadium project was never connected with any stadium that might be built for the Olympics. The Krafts, James says, believe they’ll have a new soccer stadium regardless of what happens with the Olympics.

That’s not to say those plans can’t change.

Boston 2024 has said repeatedly over the last couple months that the current proposal is a first iteration of a bid. The group may ultimately ditch the temporary stadium idea. If the temporary plan were to be tossed out, maybe a new plan would involve Bob Kraft or some other developer building a 60,000-seat stadium then turning it into a soccer stadium once the Olympics are over. Kraft may see that as advantageous and look to push the issue—he’d be guaranteed governmental support, and he’d probably be shielded from infrastructure costs—but as of right now it’s not the plan.

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There are multiple parcels of land involved in talking about the two stadium proposals. The first is a city-owned parcel of land just outside Widett Circle. That’s the land the Revolution are reportedly interested in. It’s unclear just how seriously the Revs have pursued that land; while the city acknowledged it had been in discussions with the club in mid-November, it had said in September that the two sides had not even begun to talk. Provided that’s true, any discussion as of November would have been relatively early-stage.

Another major parcel in the neighborhood is the one owned by the wholesale cooperative New Boston Food Market, which covers 20 acres. It’s worth noting, too, that the New Boston Food Market folks haven’t seemed too keen on the idea of relocating.

It’s hard to say whether Boston 2024’s plans for Widett Circle ices the Revs’ plans there. With some exceptions (see above), the Revolution and the Krafts do not publicly discuss their stadium hunt. They haven’t publicly acknowledged the Widett Circle location they’re said to be eyeing, and a Revs spokesperson declined to comment for this article.

If Boston 2024 is committed to the Widett Circle plan, maybe the Revolution will look elsewhere in or around the city. Or, if he’s married to the area as a home for the Revs, maybe Kraft will put the soccer plans on hold until after all this Olympic chatter dies down. Or maybe, as The Boston Globe reported in November, there could be room enough in the area for both ideas:

Although some people familiar with the discussions said the Kraft proposal could conflict with the Olympic group’s efforts for the bigger stadium, others said there is enough room in the area to accommodate both facilities. The Olympic committee is focusing on a site on Widett Circle, just to the south of the city property, that hosts a collection of food wholesalers.

There are a lot of moving parts here, and you have a bit of a dance involving two Kraft interests (the Olympics and the Revolution) as well as the city, the neighborhood, and the wholesale market.

Whether that patch of South Boston land winds up the home to one stadium or two—or none—is dependant on several fluid factors, not the least of which is whether Boston even gets the Olympic bid. We won’t know about that until 2017. For their part, most Revolution fans have already yearned for an urban soccer-specific stadium for more than eight years and would love to hear about progress before then.

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