Boston Strong on the Olympics — No Boston Olympics

While I’m a little saddened for dashed hopes, I’m mostly relieved by the decision of the US Olympic Committee and Boston 2024 to cancel Boston’s Olympics bid. For me, as for many others, the risks associated with the Olympics appeared too great for the Commonwealth to backstop. The question has been whether the private proponents of the Olympics could accept those risks or whether they would insist on the Commonwealth backstopping those risks as a condition of moving forward.

I congratulate Mayor Walsh for standing tough before the Olympic Committee’s demand to sign a host city agreement that would put the taxpayers on the hook for an essentially unlimited exposure. At a press conference hours before the USOC’s decision, he is quoted as having said:

I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk. If committing to sign a guarantee today is what’s required to move forward, then Boston is no longer pursuing the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Mayor had previously been clear about his unwillingness to put the full faith and credit of the City behind what is fundamentally a private bid, but the organizers seemed to continue to hope, and opponents continued to fear, that somehow he would be persuaded to sign as final guarantor if the organizers laid off enough risk through insurance policies. It seemed clear to me and to many that there would be significant risks on both the cost and revenue side that are fundamentally uninsurable — for example, the possibility of large construction cost overruns on sports venues and the potential loss of planned revenue from the games if adverse world events prevented them from being held. Requiring the organizers to accept these risks themselves would assure that they took a truly “sustainable” approach to the Olympics, but their “2.0” proposal continued to presume that the City would accept those risks. The Mayor stayed true to his stated unwillingness to accept those risks and for that I am grateful.

At the state level, I also congratulate Governor Baker, Senate President Rosenberg and Speaker Deleo for sticking to their own stated timetable for assessing those risks. They defined a schedule for carefully assessing the risks months ago and put in place a study process that was to yield an assessment next month. Ultimately, the state would have been required to also guaranty the risks of the games. Governor Baker has been studiously neutral on the question, waiting for the proposals to take final form and the agreed review process to complete — a responsible approach. The legislature has been in the same place, including language in the budget to assure that no funds would be expended or and no guaranty would be executed without legislative approval:

SECTION 193. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, no agency as defined in section 14C of chapter 7 of the General Laws or other entity created by the general court shall expend any state funds or tax expenditures, except for the purpose of analysis and due diligence, or incur any liability, indebtedness or obligation, by guaranty, indemnification agreement, bond undertaking or otherwise, for the purpose of procuring, hosting, aiding, facilitating, or remediating the effects of, hosting the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in 2024 unless the general court enacts a special act authorizing the expenditure of state funds for such purposes following at least 1 public hearing conducted by the house and senate committees on ways and means acting individually or jointly. The committees may conduct more than 1 public hearing in geographically diverse locations within the commonwealth. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to waive any other requirement for appropriation or approval in any law, rule or regulation.

Today, the IOC heard the Mayor and the Governor repeat what they have been saying all along, but the clarity today — perhaps combined with other evolving perceptions of Boston’s bid as a result of the legislation and the public debate — was sufficient to lead the IOC and Boston 2024 to cancel the bid.

The upside for the Olympics was real and the organizers are to be congratulated for putting the concept forward. But I do feel that the downside risk was never fully acknowledged by the organizers and that the vision of a truly sustainable down-scale Olympics was never quite real; the fit for Boston was never really there. We should be proud as a Commonwealth for the robust debate we’ve had and I thank all who have participated in it — it looks to me like we just dodged a bullet.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

44 replies on “Boston Strong on the Olympics — No Boston Olympics”

  1. I agree and I’m glad we can take off our bullet-proof vests! I’m grateful to see our representatives taking the stand to protect the interests of the people who actually live here, rather than succumbing to the false promise of prestige and prosperity that is quite different from the strong successes of the Commonwealth’s past and where its future can/should be heading — sustainable, organic progress rather than a short basking in the international arena, with, in all probability little long-term benefit.

  2. Glad this distracting fracas is over and put it behind us and into the past ASAP. Now how about all the “billable hours the consultants are going to charge the governors office, Has Gov. Baker told them to cease and desist, drop all their efforts, dead issue no more hours to be billed.

    Not to say all our politicians wasted time on the state payroll.

  3. Democracy won. The privileged attitude of Boston2024 that they could somehow push a decision of this magnitude through without putting it up for popular vote was an affront to voters in the city and Commonwealth.

    Now we can set our own spending priorities on things that are essential to our future like repairing our crumbling infrastructure, transportation systems, and schools.

  4. The big question now is will we actually turn our attention to overhauling and fixing the transportation in this state? We say we don’t need the Olympics to fix it but nothing gets things done like a firm deadline. See the 20yr delay in the green line extension.

  5. I’m relieved. The idea of having a glorious fest with a world wide group of athletes and tourists coming here sounded great. But the details, where the devil lurks, just seemed never to have been well thought out. I have often wondered whether the whole idea came from a group of people with too much time on their hands, who were used to handing details off to ‘staff’. And the long term benefits to the area were never really clear. Maybe when we have fixed the T and assorted rickety bridges, developed sufficient housing for non-rich people, improved our educational system, etc. etc., a more well thought out proposal for 2028 or 2032 might be possible.

  6. Thanks, Will. This is the appropriate result on the facts; financial commitments for hosting the Olympics requires a major metropolitan area or even a nation state to sign on, whereas Boston is a provincial city, admittedly with a small number of so-called world class institutions.

    Best regards

    Josh Alper

  7. I feel that this will cost all of us in money and also inconvenience in travelling around. It will also cost our student population and their parents in Boston and even in Belmont, Watertwon and the environs, as they will be faced with competing — no pun intended — with tourists and the ancillary population to support the event. Please vot against it or cause a referendum so that taxpayers like me may have a voice in this.

    Hope that you are well.

    Denise C. Moore, Esq.

  8. I agree and I’m relieved that the Boston bid has ended so soon. Too many people are investing too much time (for and against) for a bid probably would fail anyway. But what I would now like to see is the leaders of the bid, who touted the Olympics as a catalyst for great improvements in Boston, becoming themselves the catalyst and turning their talents to making those improvements happen.

  9. I agree with those who commented that Eastern Mass has a lot of infrastructure, transportation and housing needs on its plate with or without the Olympics, and I join them in hoping that this decision won’t give politicians excuses to drop those balls.

  10. I am so relieved that this is the final decision. In addition to the mayor, the governor and people such as you, Will, a great deal of credit for this final outcome must also go to those who organized in opposition to the bid for very cogent and important reasons.

    In the midst of corporate America seeming to take over so much it is comforting to know that we few laboring along here in the backwaters of the Athens of America are able to mount credible, well funded and extremely well organized opposition to the likes of John Fish and other big movers and shakers who wanted to roll right over us ordinary mortals.

    So good to see that Yankee ingenuity, thrift, good sense and a determination not to be railroaded by anyone still count for something.

    Congratulations to all those who worked so hard and so long for this outcome. Somewhere the Sons of Liberty are smiling!

    And so am I!

    Laurie Noble

  11. I, too, have mixed feelings. Ideally the USOC should NEVER have awarded BOS2024 the bid in the first place. But they did and BOS2024 *could* have made it work. And it *could* have been awesome. But at the same time, it never stood a chance. Instead BOS2024 bumbled around making one mistake after another. Every move they made, political, business, PR, turned out to be the wrong one. From leaving John Fish at the top for waaaaay too long to trotting out Dan Doctorff for the TV debate (and everything in between), all they did was continue to paint themselves like out of touch fools. Which is a shame because if they had their act together a long time ago, it *could* have been awesome. (Disclaimer: I have been able to attend Olympics in the past and it is truly an amazing event).

  12. Thank you Senator Brownsberger. I wholeheartedly agree and I also like very much the way you all came together to get out of this murky business.

  13. It was the right call. If the Olympics could have used the present facilities we have in the area that would have been terrific. The Olympic Committee wasn’t being transparent which raises red flags and whistles. History shows it is a losing proposition for all but the few guaranteed not to lose. The Olympic Committee will be lucky to find some sucker city that didn’t do their homework.

  14. I heaved a great sigh of relief today.
    Olympic Boston, as exciting as it might have been, would come with a bill that would last for years. I’ve yet to see a city with real, sustainable gains as a result of an Olympic event.

  15. We need to spend money on appropriate things. It is clear that the Olympics would be a huge cash sink and will absorb much of our governmental resources. I agree with the decision to not guarantee the financial performance. We did dodge a bullet.

  16. I agree completely. A bid that was never realistic and proponents who were unable or unwilling to be honest with citizens about the risks. Thank you, Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh, Chris Dempsey and Andrew Zimbalist for being sensible in the face of less than honest boosterism.

  17. Mr. Brownsberger,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your statement about the olympic bid. I am most pleased with the outcome.

    Best regards,

    Andres Aguirre
    Audrey Rd, Belmont

  18. I think the Mayor made the right decision.
    I am a huge fan of the Olympics but had strong reservations about the Boston bid from the beginning. I feel relieved that we are off the hook and now we can turn our attention to the other BIG issues that need addressing.

    Thanks for all you do. Liz Breadon

  19. I fully agree with you Will that we dodged a bullet. It is not just the financial risk the taxpayers would have faced. Every bit as concerning is how it would have distorted our priorities over the next 9 years. Let’s move ahead as WE see fit without any IOC overseers to hinder us.

  20. I agree with the other posters that your comments are very thoughtful and circumspect, and much appreciated.

    That said, the critics of the Olympics, like critics of say NASA or any meaningful human endeavor without a clear payoff, have won a provincial, short-sighted and entirely backward-looking victory. Mayor Walsh has shown himself not to be a leader, to go bold, or a visionary who can see the possibilities, but rather an administrator, an efficient bureaucrat. Are there risks? Of course; large ones. But anything worth doing is not without those large risks. And this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that keeps us thinking small.

    As you can guess I’m greatly disappointed and am in the minority of opinion on this blog. I think this failure of vision reflects badly on our state, and to me is a step backwards towards our myopic past, instead of the bold and sometimes risky strides we continue to take. Would any elected official now approve say the Big Dig? I bet not. But it’s been entirely worth it in my book, and is helping to make the Boston downtown more world class. The failure to push forward with the Olympics to me represents the exact opposite of that spirit.

  21. Besides the possibility of cost overruns,
    I had two additional concerns.

    1) when they look for space for an Olympic stadium, some group gets displaced.

    2)the Olympic stadium, which costs tens of millions to build, is either torn down when the Olympics are over, or is a “white elephant”.

    Since we’ve been thru the olympic planning exercise, we have a head start on 2032!

  22. Well done, Will. I was worried that we were doomed on this one, although no one *I* knew wanted it. Like you, I too am proud of the Mayor for taking a stand and am personally pleasantly surprised as I had mistakenly believed that Mr. Mayor was Joe-pro-olympics twenty-twenty-four. There is no way our infrastructre in this this traffic and tax choked city would be able to support such a bold venture. LA, DC, perhaps, both cities have the capacity and the grid layout. We can’t even build a tunnel without major, long-term problems including enormous cost overruns, corruption,disasters, lost lives post construction, and unending problems which continue to plague tax payers. The casino is going to be tough enough. That said, I am so happy I voted for you, Senator.

  23. Well said. Thanks for keeping us updated on Boston 2024. Feel relieved this is over.
    The leaders of Boston 2024 messed this up from the beginning. Private club with money thought just because they wanted the Olympics it was a done deal.

    L. S. Jacobs
    Methuen, MA

  24. The key feature of the “Olympics in Boston” has always been about the funding and it just could not be established appropriately – so be it.

  25. Perhaps now we can concentrate on the MBTA and our decaying infrastructure. We were well served by Mayor Walsh but I’m wondering if the unreasonable demands made by the IOC were not a strategy on their part to drop Boston.

  26. Senator,

    “just wondering”

    We may have dodged a bullet, but what other bullets are in the chamber that we have to look out for? The “T”, medical costs and good care, welfare and insurance fraud, child services, nursing home care and two words that scare me the most have to do with traffic the words are:
    Evacuation Route”
    Richard Sullivan

  27. Good comments Will, but it’s still a little sad that the ideals of this international event never really got discussed. The financials are super important if they don’t work, they don’t work. Boston will still be Boston, but the stigmna of not being big enough to host the olympics will endure. Years from now, the financing issues will have been forgotten by the world and Bostonians will need to defend this decision. Hopefully, the Olympics will continue somewhere else, even if not in USA. Getting ready for the 2016 Games in Brazil, the 2020 Games in Japan.

  28. It feels like we really missed out on a great opportunity. I’ve heard all the complaints about increased traffic and construction. Is that really a reason to turn our backs on a once in a lifetime opportunity to host this important event that would bring together countless nations in our own backyard? Do we have so little confidence in ourselves that we couldn’t get it right over the next 9 years? Boston really needs the infrastructure improvement and new facility construction. We’re going to pay for it either way. Now we get to live with the stigma and embarrassment of turning a cold shoulder to an event that the citizens of so many US cities and cities around the world would be proud to host.

  29. Thanks for standing strong against the Olympics, especially impressive given your own personal devotion to physical fitness and performance. America is strangling in morbidity and mortality related to poor diet and immobility. Olympic prowess has never had a translational effect on the populace, despite the hype created by the media. Available money must be invested in educational,inspirational and regulatory initiatives for population health.
    Thanks for being a steadfast and visionary spokesman for what is right.

  30. 151 Coolidge Ave., #605

  31. Whew. I had hoped, from early on, that this would happen. It was clear the citizens of Boston – who know our city best – did not want, with due respect to supporters. Boston is a small city, and an influx of visitors on that scale would make gotta miserable month. After last winter’s debacle, I don’t think a n y o n e thought the T was capable of taking on that kind of crowd. We dont want to move out focus away from our significant isdues, get stuck with a bill, and find ourselves left with a couple of gargantuan facilities that need to be filled nightly (with…?) in order to keep themselves operating and paid for. I see empty arenas in 5 years.
    Indeed. We dodged a bullet.

  32. Will,
    It will be interesting to hear what the report Gov. Baker commissioned has to say. I hope they finish the report, even though it’s moot now.

  33. Thanks, Will, for such a comprehensive summary of the decision to cancel our consideration to host the 2024 Olympics. I agree that it was the right thing to do and am relieved, and I hope that we pursue the repair and maintenance of the T with as much vigor as we would if we were under pressure to prepare for the Olympics.

  34. I agree with you Will. As much as I realize that holding the Olympics in Boston might have been my only opportunity to attend such an event, I still believe that Boston should not have been held responsible for any of the debt. The results feel wise to me.

  35. My first thought was also that we dodged a bullet. I am relieved for the way it turned out. Aside from the money issue, I was disappointed that leaders and planners were hijacked by the Olympics when we need them to be working on real issues like transportation and housing. Even if people claimed that those issues would be dealt with along with the Olympics, I knew the concerns of ordinary people would be secondary to business concerns in those areas.

  36. Dear Senator Brownsberger: We did “dodge a bullet,” and all the infrastructure problems we have yet to fulfill for public transportation and public housing certainly highlight that point. If we the Red Line can’t even withstand a small heatwave without a power problem, it could have an even bigger problem with mega-sized crowds trying to get through the Olympics in high heat on a rickety transit system.
    Thank you for speaking sense with the Mayor and the Governor.
    Sincerely, Elizabeth Thompson, Arlington,Pct. 15

  37. I fully support the Mayor and Governor also on, in effect, withdrawing from the Olympics. I fear the Olympics would have been a huge debt thrust upon us, just as we are managing to pay the Big Dig down. Unfortunately, it may have been the only thing that would have finally gotten the MBTA up to snuff……..

  38. Yes- a bullet in that it could have invited a terrorist attack, a massive cost overrun, or a predictable lack of funds both for repairing our failing subway system, and our failing infrastructure! Unless and until these issues are constructively addressed, there is little point in dreaming of glory when the underpinnings aren’t there, and no one can effect positive change.

  39. Will, An excellent analysis. I, too, am pleased with the way this process worked out. There would have been some significant benefits to have the Olympics in Boston–and some significant downsides. But if the terms the City was offered were not acceptable, and should have been turned down as they were.

    I have to wonder how many other American cities will be so eager to host these games that they will be willing to guarantee the cost…

  40. I am relieved at this final outcome; however, I wish the mayor and other politicians had taken a stand way earlier and not wasted so much time and effort on something which was clearly unwanted by the citizenry. My greatest disappointment is that the whole thing was handled with so little transparency and what felt to me like little regard for the public voice.

  41. My vision showed me traffic from Nova Scotia to Maryland and parking on land formed by filling parts of Boston Harbor. My past life (as a youngster) in Squantum (Quincy) included planes flying 0verhead, coming mighty low, and a couple of times landing on the sandbar instead of the Naval Station property.

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