Walsh open to tax credits to spur Olympic development

While maintaining his claim that public money would not be spent on Olympic venues, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Thursday opened the door to foregoing tax dollars to spur development and help the games.

"Certainly going to look at tax credits and opportunities around taxes. That's different," Walsh said at a breakfast event at the Sheraton Boston. "If there's an economic development opportunity - there will be an economic development opportunity for us to use tax incentives but we're not using tax dollars and not mortgaging the future of the city away."

Gov. Charlie Baker, who joined Walsh for a discussion with WBZ anchor Joe Mathieu, agreed that various economic development mechanisms should be considered.

"There are mechanisms and financing models that people use all the time to do economic development all over the Commonwealth," Baker said. "Those are certainly things that are worth consideration and discussion."

Tax credits can take various forms.

No Boston Olympics Co-Chair Kelley Gossett said tax incentives should not be offered to Olympics boosters.

"Massachusetts voters have been clear that they don't support using tax dollars for the Olympics, yet Boston 2024 is still asking for a taxpayer guarantee to cover revenue shortfalls or cost overruns," Gossett said in an email. "Massachusetts doesn't need the Olympics, and shouldn't be offering tax incentives to Olympic boosters."

In an interview on WGBH Thursday afternoon, Baker said he hoped The Brattle Group's study will assess questions such as taxpayer liability. He said the issue of whether a guarantee will be required is "probably going to be a big question for us going forward."

Baker has withheld judgement on Boston's bid for the Olympics while calling for the public to be as informed as he is about it and helping select a consultant to review the bid. On Thursday, Mathieu got an answer from Baker on whether he supports the games, though the governor was not specific as to geography.

"Wherever they are, I'm for them, yeah," Baker said. Rome, Paris and Hamburg, Germany, are all in the mix for hosting the Summer Games in nine years.

"See that. That's the difference between a Democrat and a Republican," quipped Walsh, a Democrat and Boston Olympics backer - though neither party is uniform in its opinion of the proposal.

News that the U.S. Olympic Committee had selected Boston to carry the country's bid arrived on Jan. 8, the day Baker was sworn in. The governor on Thursday told the anecdote that the evening of his inauguration he complained that after the Olympics news no one would care he was sworn-in as governor that day.

"That wasn't on purpose," Walsh said.

"Democrat," Baker replied.

Walsh had some more serious reflection on how information about the proposal, driven by the non-profit Boston 2024, was relayed to the public.

"If I had known then what I know now, I would have suggested that they come out of the box a lot stronger with more concrete answers," Walsh said. Walsh, who became mayor in January 2014, also noted that the idea was first pitched when the late Thomas Menino was mayor of the city and Deval Patrick was governor.

Boston 2024 plans to release a second iteration of its plan for the games by the end of June and announcements have rolled out in recent weeks about moving sailing to Buzzard's Bay and New Bedford, shifting beach volleyball to Quincy and holding shooting in Billerica and tennis in Dorchester.

"I think that you're going to see coming out this week and next week a lot of different suggestions on how we're going to pay for it, how it's going to move forward and where the venues are going to be," Walsh said.

Walsh has argued that the planning process surrounding the games will benefit the region regardless of whether Boston is selected by the International Olympics Committee. The mayor told the News Service he would not be satisfied if Boston loses in the competition for hosting the games.

Asked about the approach rolled out in recent weeks to spread out games initially pitched as "walkable" and compact, Walsh said, "They were going to spread out anyway. I mean everything wasn't going to be in Boston."

Walsh said the games would still be centered in the state's capital.

"The core of the Olympic movement will be here in the city of Boston, but there's going to be venues outside of Boston. We can't do them all," Walsh said.

Boston 2024 on Thursday announced TD Garden in Boston, which has 19,600 seats, would be the venue for Olympic and Paralympic basketball and gymnastics.


Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter