Legislators whose districts include key parcels in Boston’s bid to host the Olympic games are signaling early support for the new plans at the Athletes Village on Columbia Point that could couple with publicly funded transportation improvements.
At Monday’s press conference, Boston 2024 detailed suggested transportation infrastructure improvements that are not necessary for the Games, but upgrades in line with master planning the community created in 2011, officials say. Those two fixes include a $160 million overhaul of Kosciuszko Circle and a $60 million upgrade to JFK/UMass station.
Mayor Martin Walsh, already the city's most important political voice in support of the Games, told the Reporter that he was "really happy with where this 2.0 plan is going."
"Clearly there are a lot more specifics with the Games get paid for, but with the way these plans are drawn up, we can see how Widett Circle and Olympic Village — and Kosciuszko Circle— plays out," said Walsh, referring to the key traffic rotary that would be rebuilt under the latest Olympics proposal. "Whether or not we get the Olympics, that needs to be dealt with. It's a major entry point for the city."
City Councillor Frank Baker of Dorchester's district three, called himself cautiously optimistic about the new so-called “Bid 2.0” plan.
“It would be huge for us. Not just for the community, but for Boston and beyond Boston,” said Baker.
Those fixes would be pursued through a new transportation bond bill secured from the state legislature, Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey told the Reporter in an interview before the press conference. The Dorchester and South Boston delegation at the State House “would have to lead” the effort to secure funding for the bonds, Davey said, adding that the delegation was briefed on the proposals on Friday and “they were happy with the proposed transportation improvements.”
Under Boston 2024’s suggestions, the existing traffic rotary at Kosciuszko Circle would be completely eliminated and replaced with a new four-way intersection, along with new auxiliary roads. The Boston 2024 proposal envisions two potential re-designs to the road system, including one design that would create a north-south bypass road to parallel Morrissey Boulevard.
“The improvements to traffic and Kosciuszko Circle look intriguing to relieve current congestion, but I think they need to do more in-depth traffic studies on how it affects the roads on the other side,” said State Rep Dan Hunt of Dorchester, who, among other members of the Dorchester and South Boston delegation, were briefed on the transportation infrastructure plans ahead of today’s announcement.
State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who represents Dorchester and South Boston and is married to Reporter publisher and editor Bill Forry, said much of her action would rely on what happens in the next two years.
“I look forward to working with [our] delegation to see how we can mobilize, if we get this,” Dorcena Forry said when reached after the press conference. “This is still pie-in-the-sky. I do think, if the city of Boston were to get chosen, I think this is something that the delegation would work collaboratively with to see the investments would make it in here in this area. But there is no way we could have the Olympics without this infrastructure in place.”
Dorcena Forry also signaled that she would look to see how Beacon Hill reacts to the plan–and how it would move forward to secure the more than $400 million in public funding for the suggested transportation upgrades around the state.
“The governor has the ability to switch things up. He doesn’t have to create another bond bill, but he can actually decide to float another bond to do another project,” she said.
For State Rep. Nick Collins of South Boston, the next steps for securing transportation funding will be taking a look in the next round of bonds for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
“I’d like to see it in the next capital plan. It’s an opportunity to be considered for that. But really, the sooner the better for us,” Collins told the Reporter after the press conference. “It’s something my colleagues in the delegation are interested in.”
Both Collins and Hunt said they have reached out to Gov. Charlie Baker to support capital improvements in their districts. Baker, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House will all be briefed on “bid 2.0” in a leadership meeting with Boston 2024 this afternoon.
“It’s in the governor’s hands to do the transportation improvement. A TIGER Grant could pay for Kosciuszko Circle flat-out,” Hunt said, referring to the US Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery competitive grant program. “These bond bills are gigantic. If you want to do Kosciuszko Circle now, he could do it.”
Obtaining the state-level political buy-in for these transportation improvements would be key to getting them done, members of the delegation say.
“I think that’s our job to fight for these infrastructure improvements that absolutely wouldn’t happen without the Games. There’s little-to-no appetite to build a $200 million replacement for Kosciuszko Circle,” Hunt said.
Those public infrastructure improvements would be coupled with a privately built $2.8 billion Athletes Village at Columbia Point, 4 million square feet comprised of 4,000 units of multi-generational housing and 2,700 dorm beds for UMass Boston students.
Baker called the master developer plan—and the 2.0 bid as a whole— exciting.
“I think we’re going to need private financing there,” Baker said of Columbia Point’s development. “If that carrot is there, and you can show someone that it’s profitable for them, it’s a way for us to get a builder. I think 2024 is really being thoughtful and really thinking about it.”
Boston 2024’s “2.0 Athletes Village,” as well as the Widett Circle/Midtown development, would be bankrolled by a so-called “master developer” that would purchase the parcels at-cost and develop them to Olympic specifications, said Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey in an interview with the Reporter.
All of this — of course— hinges on Boston actually winning the bid for the 2024 Summer Games. Davey said a Request for Qualifications for a master developer would be issued “early next year” with an Request for Proposals process kicked off “basically the moment we find out if we win the Games” in September 2017. The master developer then would be selected through a “competitive” public process with the city and Boston Redevelopment Authority, with construction expected to begin in 2020. The Reporter first reported details of the master developer concept in a story earlier this month.
Mayor Walsh said he was comfortable with the prospect of entering into some sort of tax agreement with a master developer, for example, who might seek incentives in order to assemble and build out the Athletes' Village.
"Even in the short term, with a project as large as that or Widett Circle, a developer would be looking for some kind of tax agreement," said Walsh. "We have something like 120 tax agreements over the last four decades in the city of Boston. If it's a massive development there’s still going to be some kind of agreement," said Walsh.
Some of the key improvements at Columbia Point would be greater pedestrian accessibility, both on the Point, and between the neighborhoods separated by the Expressway.
Like the elected delegation, other Columbia Point stakeholders signaled support for the bid.
“We are reviewing the Olympic committee’s most recent bid document and we will continue to have conversations with Boston 2024,” said UMass Boston spokesperson DeWayne Lehman. “We remain supportive of the bid process as we look to see how the Olympic Committee’s objectives can align with our long-term master plan.”
The Boston Teachers Union, who plans to demolish their current Mount Vernon Street building and build one twice its size on the same parcel, said since Boston 2024 reached out to them earlier this year, conversations have changed.
“We’ve had a number of conversations,” said BTU president Richard Stuttman, who called the conversations and meetings cordial. “I could say our plans boil down to three things: build where we are, build nearby on another part of the property, or build in a third location. It all depends on what works out. One thing that’s certain is we’re going to build. That’s not going to change, we can’t afford not to.”
The International Olympic Committee selects the 2024 games’ host city in September 2017.
Elsewhere in the city, the board of directors of the Franklin Park Coalition issued a statement this morning in which they said they need more “concrete assurances” that Franklin Park will not be misused or left in financial peril from the Boston games before making a decision pro- or -con.
“While FPC has no opinion on the Games as a whole in Boston, as the longtime advocates for Franklin Park, FPC membership must have a key voice in any decision about new or high-impact activities in the park, including the Olympics. Until FPC has the opportunity to further asses Boston 2024’s impact and get answers to outstanding questions, we are unable to support or oppose the Olympic proposal for Franklin Park.”
Reporter Editor Bill Forry contributed reporting to this story.