With a decision expected next month on whether Boston will be the US nominee to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, local backers of the idea have already begun to address concerns about traffic, exploring ways to use existing, temporary, and reusable venues close to mass transit stops.
Boston 2024 Partnership president Dan O’Connell said that if Boston is chosen by US Olympic officials, organizers would take advantage of the city’s compact layout, mass transit, and interstate highway layout.
“Our guideline is no venue more than a 10-minute walk from a T or commuter rail stop,” O’Connell said in an interview. He spoke following a meeting in California last week where the group pitched Boston as the best venue. The city is competing with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington.
Traffic, and moving people through the city, will be the Boston organizers’ biggest challenge. O’Connell said Boston has learned from London’s organizers, who worked with businesses to reduce traffic during commuting times by adopting staggered work hours during the Games. Some Londoners also worked at home.
But, he said, the timing of the Games will also help. “It’s July and a lot of people are gone anyway,” said O’Connell. “We’ll have 250,000 students who aren’t in town. That frees up a lot of capacity.”
Shuttling the athletes from the Olympic village to the venues would require maximum use of Interstates 93 and 90. Customarily, there would be a dedicated lane for Olympic vehicles, but Boston is considering a novel format: “Doing lane closures only when we need to move athletes to a venue,” said O’Connell.
“They don’t have to be closed off for 24 hours,’’ he said. “It doesn’t have to be Jersey barriers. It doesn’t have to be zipper lanes. It can be done in a way where that lane can quickly be converted back.”
Setting their sites
Proponents of Boston’s Olympic bid are looking to use or upgrade existing facilities at area colleges to host athletes and events, while publicly owned land may be considered for larger venues, such as an Olympic stadium. Below are locations and possible uses around the state.
|Beacon Park railyards||Aquatics|
|Boston Convention & Exhibition Center||Boxing, indoor volleyball, table tennis|
|Columbia Point||Athletes' village|
|Conte Forum||Judo, wrestling|
|Copley Square||Cycling, marathon|
|Deerfield River||Canoe/kayak slalom|
|Franklin Park||Equestrian, modern pentathlon|
|Gillette Stadium||Rugby, soccer|
|Minute Man Sportsman's Club||Shooting|
|Sportsmen's Tennis and Enrichment Center||Tennis|
|Squantum Point Park||Beach volleyball|
|TD Garden||Basketball, gymnastics|
|Tsongas Center||Fencing, taekwondo, wheelchair rugby|
With fewer cities willing to stage the Games, the International Olympic Committee recently adopted new procedures that will allow future hosts to use unconventional ways to keep costs down. The most expensive item historically has been the mammoth main stadium used for the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field events, which later becomes an architectural leftover such as Beijing’s Bird’s Nest.
O’Connell offered an early estimate for Boston’s stadium.
“It would cost $700 million for a stadium that we’ll be proud of for the Games and that will satisfy the IOC and $500 million of that is infrastructure costs,” reckoned O’Connell, who said that a developer chosen through a competitive process could build the infrastructure in exchange for the right to construct a mixed-use complex there after the Games.
Boston’s stadium, which could be downsized to a smaller facility or moved elsewhere, ideally would be the product of a public-private partnership.
What makes Boston’s scheme distinct from that of the other three competing cities is its use of numerous college venues, especially those along the Charles River and the harbor campus at UMass-Boston, which would be the site of the Olympic village.
“The key element to our bid is the university involvement,” said O’Connell. “It’s not just the existing facilities that might be upgraded, it’s the control of land. You don’t want to be acquiring private parcels.”
Harvard Stadium, for example, would be used for field hockey, and the former Beacon Park railyard owned by the university could be a site for a temporary aquatics complex that would be close to the planned West transit station. Boston University’s Agganis Arena could host indoor sports like badminton and team handball, while MIT’s grassy Killian Court between the Dome and Memorial Drive could accommodate the archery competition.
Schools needing new facilities also could partner with the organizing committee to build them. “A couple of universities have said that alumni fund-raising around an Olympic venue might be easier than other types of fund-raising,” said O’Connell. “An Olympic facility has a cachet to it. They may want that to be a permanent facility and split the cost.”
UMass-Boston, which could transform some of the village’s modular housing into dormitories, would be a convenient practice area for athletes during the Games, as would adjacent Boston College High School and nearby Moakley Park, which encompasses more than 60 acres.
But the campus, wedged between Morrissey Boulevard and the water and near the Kosciuszko Circle rotary at the Southeast Expressway, presents a significant traffic dilemma. “One thing you’ve got to do is solve Kosciuszko Circle,” said O’Connell. “We’ve had some preliminary looks at it from a transportation standpoint, looking for solutions.”
Among them are creating a new entrance to the campus, upgrading the JFK-UMass Red Line stop across the boulevard to a “superstation,” and creating a bike-pedestrian lane for athletes that would lead directly to the proposed South Boston stadium site on publicly owned land at Widett Circle.
The Boston bidders, who along with the other contenders were advised by the USOC to “lay low” about publicizing their plans until the committee had decided whether to bid for 2024, say they’ll hold public question-and-answer sessions beginning next month. “We will have extensive community hearings in every location where there’s a proposed venue,” said O’Connell, “and we’ll be looking for community input as to what is the residual value.”
Since the 2024 application deadline isn’t until January 2016 and the IOC won’t choose the host city until September 2017, the USOC isn’t expecting a fully formed venue plan by next month. “The bid has to evolve and it has to change,” said chief executive officer Scott Blackmun. “The ability of any city to get things done in that city, to get venues built, to get roads dedicated, is clearly a factor.”
The impetus behind Boston’s first Olympic bid, as the 2024 Partnership and Mayor Martin J. Walsh see it, is to help transform the city while leaving a substantial and tangible legacy. “The test has to be, post-Games do we leave the site as a better asset for the community than pre-Games?” said O’Connell.