A special commission’s report released last week concluded that pulling off a Summer Olympics in Boston in 2024 would be feasible but also a "monumental task." Probably more monumental than feasible. Boston’s congestion and lack of available building space are the primary drawbacks, along with the absence of a Vladimir Putin to order the destruction of troublesome apartment buildings and the arrest of pesky naysayers.
But what if the state bid for a Massachusetts Olympics rather than the city bidding for the Olympics exclusively? This would offend parochial Bostonians, and it would be a tough sell to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which prefers venues to be concentrated in one area. However, conducting the Games over a wider area is not unprecedented in Olympic history. As for the IOC, the Winter Olympics were just held in a summer resort community, so it is not like the IOC has any rules it is unwilling to break.
If the Olympics are held exclusively in Boston, what’s in it for Western Massachusetts? More than likely, a financial shakedown. Boston’s Big Dig, the most expensive public works project in U.S. history, gave Bostonians a shortcut through traffic. The Berkshires saw its transportation dollars sucked into the Dig’s ravenous maw for about a decade. Not even a T-shirt saying, "We helped pay for the Big Dig and all we got was this lousy T-shirt" was offered.
Boston has no room for an 80,000-seat Olympic stadium and a 100-acre Olympic village with 16,000 rooms and a 5,000-seat dining hall. Amherst has room and the University of Massachusetts needs a big stadium on or near the campus if it is to succeed in Division 1 football. The Olympic village could become affordable housing for low-income and middle-income workers, which this region also needs. There is also room out west for an aquatics center and velodrome. If MGM Resorts gets its Springfield casino, it could perhaps be persuaded to help finance facilities whose presence could benefit the casino, as the industry seeks ways to diversify in response to the declining and increasingly divided gambling dollar.
Boston has ballparks and playing fields for a wide variety of other events as well as hotel space. Providing transportation between these various Olympic facilities would be a challenge but no more formidable a challenge than getting around Boston, which is routinely congested as it is, if every Olympic venue is concentrated there. Traffic would be backed up from Storrow Drive to Watertown, and the city’s primitive public transportation network would break down -- in tears. Traffic out west at least keeps moving.
A Massachusetts Olympics is obviously a long shot, but so is a Boston Olympics. Either proposal may be more trouble than its worth. The special commission created by Governor Deval Patrick and the state Legislature didn’t provide a cost estimate for a Summer Olympics in its report and it was wise not to bother -- whatever estimate it came up with would fall far short of the overruns that inevitably accompany any Massachusetts project.
However, if a bid is to be put before the IOC this year, organizers may want to look beyond Boston. If the rest of the state is going to pay for it, we want to play, too.