Walsh call earns support; stakeholders look to future

Mayor Martin Walsh convened a press conference on Monday to announce he would not sign a taxpayer guarantee for the proposed Boston 2024 Games without seeing the text of the agreement first. At left, he is joined by Sara Myerson, executive director of the Office of Olympic Planning.           	                                             Photo courtesy Mayor Walsh’s press office.Mayor Martin Walsh convened a press conference on Monday to announce he would not sign a taxpayer guarantee for the proposed Boston 2024 Games without seeing the text of the agreement first. At left, he is joined by Sara Myerson, executive director of the Office of Olympic Planning. Photo courtesy Mayor Walsh’s press office.

The hope for Boston’s Olympic flame – or the aspiration to light it in the summer of 2024 – was extinguished on Monday afternoon when the US Olympic Committee and Boston 2024 announced that they were jointly ending Boston’s bid to host the Games.

In the hours and days after the pull-out, many in Dorchester have signaled support for Mayor Martin Walsh, who kicked off Monday morning with a surprise press conference declaring that he would not sign the host city contract without seeing the text of the agreement first. The agreement, required by the International Olympic Committee, would “put the city on the hook for cost overruns,” Walsh told reporters. “If committing to signing the guarantee today is what is required to move forward, then Boston is no longer pursuing the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

Dorchester stood to bear the impact of some of the most significant activity associated with the the Games. The organizers’ final plan saw a build-out of Columbia Point for a 6,000-bed Athletes Village, a re-working of the Kosciuszko Circle rotary, an upgraded JFK/UMass Station bus platform, and a greening of Columbia Road.

Eileen Boyle, president of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association, which helped author the 2011 master plan for Columbia Point, said it was “too bad this didn’t work out. As far as the mayor, I’m glad we sat down and looked at the facts and understood that he had to take a stand on it and I commend him for it.” Boyle, like others, had tougher words for the Olympic organizers. “I think the first mistake that the committee made was underestimating the intelligence of Boston and we were going to look behind the curtain.”

New Boston Food Market is staying put – for now

Michael Vaughan, who has advised the New Boston Food Market throughout the Olympic planning process, said Boston 2024 has focused attention on Widett Circle, the current home for the 800-employee food production facility.

“They are content to go back to their day-to-day business,” Vaughan said. “Our plan is to continue to follow the mayor’s lead. He’s made it clear he has a vision for the city of Boston that keeps New Boston Food Market in the city.”

Vaughan, a resident of South Boston, said he was a supporter of the Olympics and called the bid “well-intended,” adding “it’s good to be aspirational as a city.”

For the businesses at Widett Circle, “it’s a bit of a double-edged sword with us,” said Vaughan. “When you control 18.5 acres like Widett, sooner or later, demand is going to catch up with you.”

Last summer, New Boston Food Market sought to make noise about a proposed trash transfer and recycling facility known as Celtic Recycling that was trying to move into a parcel that abutted Widett Circle – something that Vaughan still maintains would be bad for the New Boston businesses. Now, that issue is back on the table.

“Isn’t it funny that a year earlier we were talking about a transfer station and a year later we were talking about a 60,000-seat stadium? It took 12 months to evolve that far.” Vaughan said, adding that he hopes the concept of Celtic Recycling is “a positive casualty of the Olympics.” added. A representative for Celtic Recycling did not return a request for comment.

In the end, said Vaughan, “The Olympics held up the lens that made people look at Widett Circle, Columbia Point, and Dot Ave in a different way.”

Elected officials signal support for the mayor

State Rep. Russell Holmes was a vocal supporter of the Games last month as organizers behind Boston’s bid announced that Franklin Field’s Harambee Park and Sportsmen’s Tennis Association would be tennis venues for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Dorchester green space and accompanying facility are in his district.

Holmes said Walsh’s stand was “right in line” with his thinking. “I don’t think his passion for the Games has changed, I just think he’s putting a cap on the risk,” Holmes told the Reporter moments before news broke that the Boston bid was dead. “He’s making the best deal for the city.”

After learning the USOC and Boston 2024 were ending the bid, Holmes was reflective. “I’m disappointed, but now I question, ‘Can we do big things?’ ” he said. “Can this country do big things anymore? We have to start asking ourselves--can we do big things or are we doing incremental improvements?”

“I think the mayor and the governor did a great service to us by sticking to their guns,” said state Rep. Dan Hunt, whose Dorchester district includes Columbia Point, JFK/UMass Station, and Kosciuszko Circle.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that the USOC had given Baker an ultimatum to support the bid – something the governor denied in a press conference that day. Baker participated in the Monday morning call with the USOC, and had told reporters on Friday that he would hold off supporting or opposing the bid until an independent study of the bid could be completed by the Brattle Group. That report, commissioned by Baker, the state Senate president, and the speaker of the House, is due sometime in August.

“Over the weekend, the USOC wanted the mayor and the governor to sign off on something committing public money, which the public wasn’t ready to do, and it impeded the public process,” Hunt said. “I think it’s kind of telling of how they [the USOC] operate behind closed doors.”

In the end, Walsh’s decision to push back against the US Olympic Committee resonated.

“I applaud Mayor Walsh for taking a strong stance on behalf of the taxpayers of the city of Boston and on behalf of the future of our City,” said state Rep. Dan Cullinane of Dorchester. “The discussion and decision on whether or not to host the Olympic Games should be about opportunities for the people of Boston and of Massachusetts and not about ultimatums by the USOC.”

“I applaud Mayor Marty Walsh for sending a very clear message today about the city of Boston’s position regarding the 2024 Olympics bid. I fully support him in this,” said state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry on Monday. Her statement, issued before the bid was pulled from Boston, concluded: “I still believe that the Olympics bid has the potential to benefit the city of Boston and the region, but it must come with assurances that city and state tax dollars would not be required to guarantee cost overruns or other expenses related to the operations of the Games.”

No second-guessing the process

Despite Monday’s outcome, the mayor and other elected officials hailed the benefits of the extensive planning process for the hoped-for Games.
On Monday morning, Walsh said he did not regret the pursuit. “There’s a potential there that we can develop Widett Circle. Harbor Point, Columbia Point, which we can develop six thousand units of housing in line with the housing plan. At Harambee Park, there is a redesign of Harambee Park with Sportsmen’s Tennis to really enliven that park. These are regrets I will not have as far as this conversation goes.”

Said Dan Hunt: “As the mayor said from the beginning, this is going to spur conversation about economic development. A private group has just spent millions of private dollars on this plan and it’s free to us. We also have shown to the state that we need certain areas improved.”

Gov. Baker agreed that Boston 2024’s planning process would bring benefits specifically to economic development and transportation. “Some of the analysis in terms of the economic development proposals and transportation initiatives like the K-Circle piece, I think were pretty thoughtful and were things that we can learn from going forward,” he said at a press conference on Monday.

Walsh had similar thoughts: “Millions of private dollars have been spent on extensive planning efforts for countless sites that hold untapped economic opportunity throughout the city that will be transformative,” he told reporters. “I look forward to continuing these conversations as we move forward with Imagine Boston 2030.”