Boston Olympic bid ends abruptly

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Written by Matt Murphy, Andy Metzger and Michael Norton

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 27, 2015….The U.S. Olympic Committee and Boston 2024 dropped Boston’s bid to host the 2024 summer Olympics, ending a months-long debate over what Gov. Charlie Baker called a “ten-year drill” with major economic and fiscal ramifications.

The decision to withdraw Boston’s bid came after Boston Mayor Martin Walsh in the morning said he refused to commit to signing a host city agreement that might put tax dollars at risk before seeing it, and Gov. Charlie Baker told United States Olympics officials he would not take a position on the games until after reading an independent consultant’s report due next month.
U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said the decision to sever ties with Boston reflected the committee’s belief that a lack of strong public support for hosting the Olympics in Boston would jeopardize the country’s ability to compete against other international cities.

The committee also took into consideration Walsh’s comments at his morning press conference and “recent conversations” with Baker, Walsh and Boston 2024 Chairman Steve Pagliuca.

“Notwithstanding the promise of the original vision for the bid,  and the soundness of the plan developed under Steve Pagliuca, we have not been able to get a majority of the citizens of Boston to support hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Therefore, the USOC does not think that the level of support enjoyed by Boston’s bid would allow it to prevail over great bids from Paris, Rome, Hamburg, Budapest or Toronto,” Blackmun said in a statement.


Baker spoke by phone on Monday with Blackmun and two other members of the USOC for about 10 minutes, according to aides, telling them that he would not signal his support or opposition to the games until after he received a report from the Brattle Group, a consultant commissioned by the governor and legislative leaders to vet Boston 2024’s bid.

Baker, during a press conference with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, would not say specifically whether he was disappointed or relieved by the USOC’s decision. Instead, the governor said he continues to look forward to reviewing the Brattle Group report, and believes the process provided “useful information” for future economic development and transportation planning by his administration.

Despite Boston 2024’s insistence that it could swing public support in its favor, Blackmun said the USOC was “out of time” given its plans to potentially put forward another U.S. city in Boston’s place to host the 2024 summer games.

“The USOC would very much like to see an American city host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024. We will immediately begin to explore whether we can do so on a basis consistent with our guiding principles, to which we remain firmly committed,” he said.

Much of the speculation has focused on Los Angeles, which finished second to Boston in January in its quest to become the host city. Baker said that he was given no prior indication in multiple conversations with USOC officials that his timeline and intention to wait for the Brattle Group report could jeopardize Boston’s host city status.

“We would like to see the U.S. properly represented in this whole thing,” Baker said, adding, “I don’t know how the country will view this.”

Boston 2024, the group leading the charge to host the Olympics, was the target of criticism during the process both from skeptics of a Boston Olympics and others who complained the group’s plans lacked detail or were too often kept secret. Pagliuca, a co-owner of the Boston Celtics and former U.S. Senate candidate, has led Boston 2024’s recent efforts after taking over for John Fish.

Public opinion polling has consistently shown low levels of support for a Boston Olympics and many elected officials in Massachusetts have opted against coming out strongly in favor of a Boston Olympics, saying repeatedly that they hoped to safeguard tax dollars.

“As we reflected on the timing and the status of our bid in this international competition, we have jointly come to the conclusion that the extensive efforts required in Boston at this stage of the bid process would detract from the U.S.’ ability to compete against strong interest from cities like Rome, Paris, Budapest and Hamburg,” Pagliuca said in a statement.

Baker said he didn’t “feel like I was strong-armed or bullied at all” by the USOC to come out in support of the Olympics in order to help swing public opinion, asserting state officials had stuck to their timetable for reviewing the bid and that it hadn’t synced up with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s timeline.

Leaders of a planned ballot question banning the use of public funds on the Olympics started celebrating on Monday afternoon.

“The many elected officials in Boston 2024’s corner looked the other way for months, even when it became clear that Boston 2024 had been less than truthful about what it wanted from taxpayers. What those officials couldn’t ignore was the real, credible threat of a binding vote, which is what ultimately led to the USOC pulling the bid,” Evan Falchuk, a 2014 candidate for governor, said in a statement. “If Boston 2024 could have produced a plan that did not rely on a taxpayer bailout, they would be still in the running for the 2024 games.”

“This is good day for Massachusetts taxpayers,” added Rep. Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton. “The Boston Games would have resulted in a multi-billion taxpayer funded bailout. It would have hurt our state’s bond rating, taken tax dollars from necessities and forced huge tax increases. We are a world class state without the Olympics. We don’t need to spend billions of tax dollars to prove that fact.”

No Boston Olympics announced plans for a celebration Monday night at The Beantown Pub.

“Boston is a world-class city. We are a city with an important past and a bright future. We got that way by thinking big, but also thinking smart. We need to move forward as a city, and today’s decision allows us to do that on our own terms, not the terms of the USOC or the IOC. We’re better off for having passed on Boston 2024,” No Boston Olympics said in a statement.

In January, on the same day that Baker took office, Boston was chosen by the US Olympic Committee as the nation’s host city, surprising many locally and leading to the expectation that plans for the games would become more detailed in the ensuing months.

“I strongly believe that bringing the Olympic Games back to the United States would be good for our country and would have brought long-term benefits to Boston. However, no benefit is so great that it is worth handing over the financial future of our City and our citizens were rightly hesitant to be supportive as a result,” Walsh said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, before the decision to drop the Boston Olympics bid was made but when it seemed a strong possibility, Walsh suggested the opponents of the plan were limited to a few people on social media.

“That was for the most part about 10 people on Twitter and a couple people out there who were constantly feeding the drumbeat,” said Walsh. He later allowed, “It could be more than that.”

No Boston Olympics co-chair Chris Dempsey said his group gave voice to those skeptical of hosting the Olympics.

“We’d certainly like to think that some of that effort amounted to something,” Dempsey said at a press conference outside the State House with the group’s co-chair Kelly Gossett.

“Our effort was about a lot more than just social media and Twitter,” Dempsey said.


Rafael Mares, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, who highlighted concerns about the bid proposal, said he hoped the planning process spawned by the Olympic effort would continue.

“First and foremost, Boston 2024 and Mayor Walsh deserve our thanks for putting forth a vision,” Mares said in a statement. “While some thought the Olympics were what we needed to address the deficiencies of our public transit system, this hope was quickly undermined by the economics and contractual requirements of the bidding process. Instead of considering this the end, however, let’s take the energy generated by the Olympic aspirations and focus it on a planning process that will still help us obtain a reliable, accessible, and sustainable public transportation system.”

At a press conference earlier on Monday, Walsh noted that the Olympics effort had put a spotlight on Widett Circle, an industrial lot that includes and MBTA bus facility enclosed by train tracks and highway, where Olympics proponents hoped to build Olympic stadium.

DeLeo said the process showed that people looked at Boston as a “world-class city” capable of hosting the Olympics and said the discussions about hosting the Olympics fed thinking about improving operations in Massachusetts and were “valuable.”

Rosenberg said he was “very excited” that Massachusetts was the initial choice but wondered about issues that would “make it real,” including the level of support for a Boston Olympics from the federal government.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, said the decision to withdraw the bid “represents prudence, statesmanship, and responsibility” while the city’s initial selection “reflects the tremendous effort produced by those seeking to bring the Olympics to Massachusetts.”

“I agree with this decision, and I commend Mayor Walsh for putting the needs of the city and its residents first,” House Minority Leader Brad Jones, a North Reading Republican, said in a statement.