Boston reacts with suspicion, snark to winning 2024 Olympic bid

Boston was selected Thursday as the US city to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, but the response from many Bostonians was far from celebratory.

The US Olympic Committee has picked Boston as its candidate to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, but many Bostonians aren't too happy about it.

After making the selection Thursday, the USOC will now send official representatives to the city to start working out the details of a possible Boston Olympics. If they are satisfied with what they see, Boston will jump later this year into the international competition to host the Games. Likely international candidates include Berlin, Rome, and Paris.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh tweeted Thursday night that it was an "exceptional honor" for the city to be chosen as the US candidate to host the Games. But many local residents aren't exactly excited about their sun-dappled streets potentially being filled with Olympic tourists – which is how the Boston 2024 bid group depicted the city in its renderings of the Games.

Instead, many reactions around Boston have centered on the potential cost and overall chaos that the event could bring to the city, and whether all the preparations would really be worth it.

"What I've heard is that [the Olympics] doesn't usually help the [host] city," says Daniel Diamond, a graduate student at the New England College of Optometry, in a Monitor interview.

"Usually it just gives the city more publicity, more exposure," adds Mr. Diamond, who has lived in the city for two years. "Boston doesn't need that publicity or exposure. I'm not sure [the Olympics] is that necessary."

Those wary of the potential long-term cost of hosting the Olympics – including the group No Boston Olympics, which has loudly opposed the bid – have lots of data to back up their concerns.

The average cost of hosting a Summer Olympics is $15 billion, according to No Boston Olympics – roughly the cost of Boston's infamous Big Dig highway project, which took some 16 years to complete.

The 1984 Games in Los Angeles was the first Summer Olympics to make a profit since 1932. That even is often held up, along with the '92 Barcelona Games, as Olympics success stories, with increased revenue from the Games funding the infrastructure and logistical costs of the Games.

But claims that the increased costs are offset by increased tourism revenue are shaky at best, according to some observers. Bostonians are also worried about spending millions of dollars to construct large stadiums that then go unused once the Games leave.

"If Boston hosts the 2024 Olympics, there’s no doubt that [the city] is going to be overrun with sports tourists,” said Victor Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in an interview with The New York Times. “But Boston is already overrun with tourists in the summer.”

Hosting the 1976 Olympics left Montreal $2 million in debt, and it took the city three decades to pay off the construction of its Olympic Stadium, which is now largely unused. In Beijing, site of the 2008 Olympics, tourists can ride a Segway around the Bird’s Nest stadium for $20, according to the Times.

Many cities have even spent millions of dollars just putting failed bids together. Chicago spent $100 million on a failed bid to host the 2016 Games.

Local resident Greg Densmore tells the Monitor that, with the 2024 Olympics almost a decade away, it seems "a little too far off to be a pressing issue in" his head.

Boston won't know if it will make a further cut to host the 2024 Games until 2017, when the International Olympic Committee will meet in Lima, Peru, to decide the shortlist of international finalists.

Still, Mr. Densmore says it would be "cool" if Boston gets to host the Games, even with the construction, tourists, and security that the event brings.

"It's a good source of revenue, a good source of tourism," he says. "And as for the craziness, I'm all for the craziness."

Boston residents are also worried about how the Games could impact their communities. In a December address to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Walsh promised that "no neighborhood will be steamrolled."

The city announced Friday that it will hold nine community meetings between now and the end of September to get public feedback on the prospect of Boston hosting the Games. No Boston Olympics will also be hosting a community meeting on Jan. 14.

Some Boston communities have said their neighborhoods are being considered for Olympic sites without their input. In late November, some community leaders told the Jamaica Plain Gazette that Boston 2024 has proposed to build equestrian event facilities in Franklin Park, and to rebuild the park's White Stadium, without permission or input from the community.

"The Franklin Park Coalition board would take a vote to support or oppose use of the park for the Olympics if it becomes real,” said Christine Poff, executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition board, in an interview with the Gazette. “At present, many of our members and constituents are torn. They would like to see Franklin Park receive investment and attention, but not at the expense of community park use."

In December, Walsh told Boston public radio station WGBH that he didn't think a public vote was needed on whether Boston should host the Olympics – that he'd "seen polling numbers" indicating that the majority of Bostonians are in favor of the Olympics.

"They’re excited about the possibility of the Olympics," he told WGBH. "I haven’t really heard from anybody, other than a few people from No Boston Olympics, that have said they're opposed to it."

A June 2014 poll by The Boston Globe found that 47 percent of Massachusetts voters supported a Boston Olympics and 43 percent opposed it. John Della Volpe of SocialSphere Inc., which conducted the poll for the Globe, told the paper that at the time, voters were open to the Olympic bid.

"But the more they think about it, the more questions they have," he said.

Madeleine DeCarlo, who works at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, is one local resident who's more supportive of the Games potentially being in Boston. Hosting the Olympics could be "a wonderful opportunity" for Boston, she tells the Monitor.

In particular, she thinks the Games are needed to improve the city's infrastructure. 

Boston 2024 says the only public investment associated with the Games will be in roadway, transportation, and infrastructure improvements.

"The roads really need it," she says. "I'm just hoping the city will gain financially and not lose millions."

Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly identified which Olympics have been profitable.

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