Let the Games Begin

Any day now, the U.S. Olympic Committee could accept Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Games. But if we win, do we really lose?

photograph courtesy of northwind strategies

photograph courtesy of northwind strategies

Eleven months ago, this magazine ran a semi-satirical column about the prospect of Boston’s hosting the Summer Olympics. Hosting the Olympics is a terrible idea for cities, wrote Garrett Quinn, except that in our case, it might be the only way to fix our even-more-terrible public transportation system. Funny, right?

Nobody’s laughing now. Thanks to the Boston 2024 Partnership—a deep-pocketed crew backed by pols and power moguls from Mayor Marty Walsh to mega-developer John Fish—the city finds itself on the brink of being named the official U.S. bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, which would land us on the short list of cities that the International Olympic Committee will consider before selecting a winner in 2017. And fixes for our transportation system? Uncannily, the day Boston submitted its official bid, the feds announced nearly a billion dollars in funding for a Green Line extension to Medford and Somerville. It could be a coincidence, of course.

The bandwagon is already boarding. Boston 2024 supporter Bob Kraft leaked plans to build a long-promised home for his New England Revolution—adjacent to the South Boston spot organizers are eyeing for an Olympic Stadium. Around the same time, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation revealed it had purchased a key rail line, for $23 million, to extend daily commuter-rail service to Gillette Stadium, itself a likely Olympic venue. (Which must be a coincidence, because 11 months ago, a spokesperson for MassDOT told Boston the Olympics are “not something we are banking on to fix the system’s problems​.”)

So maybe it’s not such a crazy idea, right? After all, the Summer Games could be a boon to Boston: athlete dorms someday transmogrify into affordable housing; cash-strapped colleges get satellite athletic fields; we flip the South Boston stadium into a new home for the Revs, all paid for with $4.5 billion in privately raised funds.

Or it could turn into a massive boondoggle faster than you can say “Bigger Dig.” No Boston Olympics, the group leading the grassroots anti-Games counterinsurgency, estimates the budget could balloon to $10 billion or more, and warns that no insurance policy in the universe could protect the city and state from the cost overruns. If it comes to a fight, NBO knows it’ll be outgunned: With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, they expect to be outspent by the Olympics’ international corporate sponsors and broadcast partners. But they’re gearing up anyway, and threatening to launch a ballot initiative to block public funding of the Games. Translation? Game on.