Baker: Air rights at Olympic Stadium 'worth a lot of money'

The group seeking to bring the Olympics to Boston wants the state to "give up" its air rights at the site of the proposed Olympic Stadium, according to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Boston 2024, a non-profit seeking to make the city host to the Summer Games in nine years, has chosen Widett Circle as the site of the marquee stadium in the international sporting event.

Right now, the land lying between highways and railways between the South End and South Boston is home to an MBTA bus facility, a Boston public works facility and a food company. A Boston 2024 official previously told the News Service the state would be fully compensated for use of its land, and might retain ownership for future development under the plan.

"The price of moving the bus depot is the subject of debate and it needs to go someplace, OK? That needs to get solved from our point of view, and secondly we own the air rights associated with the property we own there, which under the current proposal that's being made by Boston 2024 we would need to just give up, and those air rights if somebody develops that property over time could be worth a lot of money," Baker said in his monthly appearance on WGBH's Boston Public Radio. "And the question is, you know, would that violate the notion of taxpayer funding?"

Boston 2024 has claimed that under its plans the games would be privately funded. Boston 2024's list of 10 "principles," or criteria that would need to be met before submitting a final bid to the International Olympic Committee does not preclude the use of state dollars and requires federal taxpayers to pick up the tab for security costs.

Answers to questions about what the state would receive for its MBTA property and air rights should be answered by a study being undertaken by The Brattle Group, which Baker said would probably be available for the public in mid-August.

Rafael Mares, a transit activist and senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, had raised concerns that the latest Boston 2024 bid includes no money specifically for MBTA air rights even as it laid aside $10 million for Amtrak air rights.

Mares told the News Service he's "really pleased" to hear about Baker's concern on that same issue and he believes that will put the T in a better position.

Additionally The Brattle Group will quantify the public investments Boston 2024 expects the state to make and particulars about the financing strategy, Baker has said.

Support for the Olympics has been steadily lagging in public polling, while the Olympics backers also say majority support is one of their criteria for submitting a final bid. In June, a MassINC poll for WBUR found only 39 percent supported a Boston Olympics while 49 opposed it, while support for an Olympics across Massachusetts stood at 51 percent with 37 percent opposed to that idea.

Boston Public Radio co-host Jim Braude asked Baker if he agrees he could "put the kibosh" on the Olympics proposal by giving it a negative assessment.

"I never think about myself singularly when I think about this stuff," said Baker, who said he had worked collaboratively with the House speaker and the Senate president. He said, "I think it would be hard for this to happen if the three of us get a report from The Brattle Group that says, you know there's a huge gap between this and that, on the transportation and the infrastructure stuff in particular."

Baker said he would not sign a guarantee that would put the state on the hook for any cost overruns.

Opponents of using public funds to pay for a 2024 summer Olympics in Massachusetts announced Thursday that they've filed initiative petition language with the attorney general's office with the goal of placing a binding question on the November 2016 ballot.

The proposals states, in part, that no state agency, authority or entity shall directly or indirectly spend funds, issue tax credits, incur debt or take any private property by eminent domain "to procure, aid or remediate the effects of, the 2024 Olympics." The language explicitly authorizes public spending on transportation system work "even if such actions may facilitate procuring, aiding, or remediating the effects of, the 2024 Olympics."

Chairman of Citizens for a Say Evan Falchuk and Tank Taxes for Olympics co-chairs Steve Aylward and Rep. Shaunna O'Connell gathered outside the State House to promote their proposal's official beginning and assert that their coalition has been growing since its formation.

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