It’s been an incredible transformation. Over the past few years, Boston has transformed from an underdog into a world class city through significant investment in development projects, and many are convinced this has positioned Boston to be a prime candidate for the 2024 Olympic bid. Not everyone, however, shares that sentiment, and recent polls indicate that the public support is not behind the Olympic bid.
WGBH recently ran a piece on whether or not Boston is ready for the immense planning and capital toll that the Olympics will take. According to the piece, Boston probably won’t find out until 2017 if it is hosting the Olympics, but it will need to have an overall completed design for the build-out by 2018. According to WGBH, the London Summer Olympics took two years to plan, four years to build and one to commission the necessary structures.
John Fitzgerald, the Olympic Liaison from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, says that the agency is prepared to handle the Olympics. He also is confident that the amount of construction currently going on in the city is more than what we could expect for the Olympics with a historic 15.3 million square feet of construction, up from 4.5 three years ago.Many have their doubts, however, and it will be interesting to see what changes the Walsh administration will implement to manage the BRA.
Recently, BostInno ran an article highlighting the proposed South Boston location for the Olympic Stadium in Widett Circle. Rendering of the stadium appears to sit on top of a crucial MBTA line heading in and out of the ever-crowded South Station. Despite this, former MassDOT chief, Richard Davey, is confident that a dramatic overhaul wouldn’t be necessary “The proposal for the stadium at Widett Circle will not require any major changes to the rail lines”, he states.
As the recent winter has exposed to us, the MBTA is atrociously outdated and South Boston is smack in the middle of a problem zone. Southie is already home to major traffic and parking issues and there are other major development projects being constructed and proposed that could make these matters worse. Boston officials claim that the stadium will hold future sporting events i.e., Bob Kraft and the Revolution will use this stadium as their home field. Years ago, it was proposed that the home of the New England Patriots, be built in South Boston. At that time, South Boston residents opposed the stadium citing major traffic and parking issues would result.
What’s changed? A lot. A lot more people, a lot more buildings and a lot more cars. It isn’t unrealistic to think that if that original plan had gone through, current parking and traffic issues would have been resolved out of sheer necessity. It seems that many are pushing the Olympics to fast track these transportation upgrades. It’s not that Boston doesn’t need the upgrades, it most certainly does. But what Boston doesn’t need is the Olympics to make these upgrades happen. What is not clear, but what most likely will transpire is Boston and the state of Massachusetts will foot the bill for the infrastructure updates. There is no other obvious way to justify the budget that the 2024 committee has put forth.
What we would like to see is a capital and physical needs assessment performed on the proposed structures as well as the infrastructure in and around the city. Let’s really evaluate what major capital improvements will be required to support the Olympics coming to the city.
What about deadlines? Given the tight deadlines, it is nearly impossible for the proposed developments to be completed on time with any quality assurance. Take Sochi for example; the paint wasn’t even dry for the opening ceremonies and many residential complexes didn’t have running water for days.
What will the future use for these new structures be? Do we have the budget for future maintenance? Who will own and operate them? Will they be disposable? What will be future use be for the biking velodrome? What college is going to have the maintenance budget to own and operate a new building on campus designed for a capacity to hold an Olympic audience? These are the hard questions that need to be answered.
It all comes to this; writing the check. Promises have been made that this will be privately funded, but we believe that this will be difficult to accomplish. Once this is in motion, there will be no stopping. What are you going to do, cancel the Olympics?
Although it would be an added bonus, we don’t need the Olympics as a feather in our cap to prove that we are a great city. Let’s focus our efforts on improving infrastructure, providing low income housing in the inner city, and attracting some of the world’s greatest companies.