Boston 2024: Bad PR? Or Bad Plan?

It's been three rough months for the Boston 2024 Olympics bid.

Endless stories about big paychecks for political insiders working on the bid -- including a $7,500-a-day retainer for former governor Deval L. Patrick that he has since foresworn. Endless stories about city or state ballot questions to ban public financing for an Olympics bid. Fears after the MBTA's winterlong collapse that Boston's transit system isn't up to moving Olympic crowds. And a 30-point collapse in polls as the games moved from having a solid majority of the public backing them to, as of last month, just 36 percent in favor in the WBUR/MassINC poll.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Thursday he thinks what the Olympics bid has is fundamentally a public relations problem.

"Once the conversation is allowed to happen around the bid and around what it means to bring an Olympics in, that's a good thing,' Walsh said in an interview outside an event with students at the Higginson-Lewis School in Roxbury. "The negativity on the Olympics isn't based on actually the Olympics itself. It's been all the surrounding stories, whether it's been the ballot question or the transparency question around the salaries."

But No Boston Olympics leader Chris Dempsey says "no" to Walsh's take.

"Boston 2024 doesn't have a marketing problem. It has a product problem. This is a bid that was pulled together behind closed doors and then unveiled to the public," Dempsey said.

Dempsey says even great PR can't assuage people's fears about Big-Dig-scale cost overruns and disruptions.

"The more the public learns about the bid, the less they like it. They don't like that taxpayers are on the hook for overruns. They don't like that there's no margin for error in the budget. They don't like that it includes taking over public parks and public spaces for long periods of time just for this three-week event," Dempsey said.

Good plan with bad PR? Or bad plan? Count Emma Medeiros of East Boston as hoping Boston 2024 can become a good plan with good PR. She said, "As far as marketing, I think as long as they have a really firm plan in place and clearly pitch it to people, I think people would be on board with it because it would bring a lot of business to Boston and a lot of excitement."

But Yvedithe Alphonse and Sharmee Sangupta, students from Cambridge who work in Boston, don't see it.

"I think they could do better, and I think I need more information on how it would all work," Alphonse said. "Where's the money coming from for all that?"

Both she and Sangupta worry the Hub can't handle the crowds. "Boston is too small. It's way too small," Sangupta said. "It should be like in New York or something."

Count Don O'Malley of Needham as someone who sees both sides -- and hopes there's a path to making an Olympics happen with strong support. "It seems like there's a lot of people against it because we don't know how much it's going to cost the city," O'Malley said. "But on the other hand, it's a once in maybe a lifetime thing to bring it to Boston." 

With videographer Marc Jackson

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