Boston 2024 dream moves ahead

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February 11, 2014, 6:09 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - Boston putting in a bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2024? Maybe it's not a completely and utterly nutty idea after all.

That seems to be the consensus a special 11-person state commission is moving towards after several months of intense but under-the-radar work reviewing what would need to go into a Hub Olympics, including a Tuesday session where commissioners brought in two British officials to get more insight into how London pulled off its 2012 games.

"This is beyond a sporting occasion -- this is life-changing for people in London and around the world,'' British consul general Susie Kitchens said at the State House hearing.

As in Boston when the idea began bubbling up last year, when the idea of a London Olympics first came up more than a decade ago, many Britons immediately considered the idea ridiculous or un-doable, a traffic and security nightmare.

Then, London just began working to make it happen, Kitchens said, "setting out a really consistent, regular plan of communication that this is what we're doing, these are the issues that we're addressing … having it very open to the public so that people were able to see, transparently, what was going on.''

State Senator Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat, spearheaded creation of the Olympics panel, which includes representatives of the governor, mayor of Boston, and state Senate and House. Its chairman, construction magnate John Fish of Suffolk Construction, is the incoming chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and A-list power broker in Boston.

The commission has dug deeply into understanding what a host city needs for an Olympics, how that matches up to the infrastructure Boston has or that its universities and sports franchises could realistically want to help build and use for post-Olympics use, options for modular or temporary stadiums and housing, options for local universities giving up summer dorm space to house athletes and visitors, and ways to use "Olympic Village" construction to address the metropolitan region's affordable housing shortage. Commissioners have even looked at how the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center could work as an ideal media staging center.

In reviewing "the infrastructure needed, housing, security, all of those issues concerning security,'' Donoghue said, "my takeaway is, much of it, very positive. Many questions have to be answered, but it is important, with careful planning, going in with eyes wide open'' to discuss the actual feasibility of a Boston Games.

There has been much grumbling across Boston about whether the city could endure the equivalent of another Big Dig and handle an influx of hundreds of thousands of athletes, fans, and tourists. The 2004 Democratic National Convention is remembered by many as a success largely because vast swaths of the city were shut down and many workers stayed out of the city for a week. But an informal survey of Bostonians in Copley Square Tuesday afternoon, maybe shaped a little by the so far less-bad-than-expected Sochi Winter Olympics underway, found many enthusiastic about a Hub Games and confident the city could actually pull it off.

"Boston Strong - it's also 'Boston smart,' '' said Albert Pesso, who lives in the Back Bay. "They'll figure out a way to take care of all of that.''

There's also a growing argument among transit advocates that a 2024 Olympics may be the only cause big enough - and with a clear, hard deadline -- to force the state and city to finally come up with the billions of dollars needed to fix the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and repair and replace decrepit tracks, tunnels, subway cars, buses, and signal systems and construct transit extensions that have only been talked about for decades. And based on the experience of Salt Lake City with the 2002 winter games, an Olympics host city designation could bring with it major federal funding for T improvements and repairs.

Donoghue said a clear message she got from British officials about the lasting impact of the London games was that "they were able to get infrastructure improvements in London that they wouldn't have had otherwise without the Olympics -- lasting improvements in transportation, housing" and workforce development and tourism, among other areas.

Donoghue said the commission is still working out just what its message will be about the feasibility and challenges of a summer Olympics in Boston - but just having the conversation has clarified for a lot of leading city and state officials what residents, businesses and institutional leaders think the region needs to get built and done in the next decade. "What we've heard from these hearings is not just how would the Olympics play into this vision down the road, but where do we want to be, with or without an Olympic bid,'' Donoghue said. "So there's been a conversation opened up on many, many different fronts.''

With videographers Todd LaBrecque and John J. Hammann

Tags: Boston, Olympics, Peter Howe, Summer Olympics
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