Boston 2024 Reveals Plans, Ponders Referendum

If the Boston 2024 Olympic bid team is has its way, the Olympic Summer Games opening ceremony will be held Friday, July 19, 2024 at a temporary Olympic Stadium in Boston’s Midtown.  But since the city was chosen as America’s bid earlier this month there has been a groundswell of taxpayers backing a referendum so that they can decide the next steps.

Boston's 2024 Six-Volume Bid Book Set Submitted to USOC

Boston’s 2024 Six-Volume Bid Book Set Submitted to USOC

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said that a vote on the bid “would not be necessary” following his city’s selection by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), but amid a public outcry he has changed his tone.

The Mayor told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday that “I wouldn’t stand in the way” of a public vote.  Later a spokesperson clarified that he doesn’t support a proposed November vote but does support the rights of the voters to call for one.

Recent polls show weak public support for the bid – a very different picture than what was portrayed to the USOC through bid documents.  In the proposal, Boston 2024 described an April 2013 survey where 66% in the state supported an Olympic bid.

The full release of the the bid documents Wednesday delivers on the Mayor’s promise of full transparency and may help silence opposition and critics, at least in the short term.

Should Boston win its bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, it would be the most compact Games in modern times, according to David Manfredi, an architect and co-chair of the Boston 2024 planning committee.

This concept, while desirable for an Olympic Games, ignores recent International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendations that call for sustainability and cost-effectiveness over compactness.  Boston’s response may raise the bar for rival cities that will have to choose their own approach.

Boston 2024 Olympic Bid Venue Plan (Source: Boston 2024)

Boston 2024 Olympic Bid Venue Plan (Source: Boston 2024)

The plans show a pedestrian boulevard along a channel running to a temporary Olympic stadium that would serve as the event’s “front yard” and existing or upgraded public transportation to shuttle fans between the university and waterfront venues.

Twenty-eight of 33 proposed venues would be within 6.2 miles of the athletes’ village, which is planned for the waterfront campus of UMass-Boston.  Manfredi said, “we can plan a transit-oriented Games.  It supports the idea that Boston, the city of Boston, is the Olympic Park”.

The operating budget for the Games would be $4.7 billion, money that would come from broadcast revenues, sponsorships and ticket sales.  The bid itself includes an additional $3.4 billion for capital infrastructure costs, mostly to build the athletes’ village at UMass-Boston, a media headquarters near the South Boston waterfront, and a temporary Olympic stadium just south of downtown Boston.

Do you think Boston 2024 was the right choice for the USOC?

  • No (58%)
  • Yes (32%)
  • Not Sure (10%)

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Documents say that an additional $5.4 billion will be invested in capital infrastructure improvements that have already been planned and budgeted by the city.

But all of this is at risk if a November referendum is given the go-ahead – Boston’s dream could crumple even before a single ballot is cast.  The issue is timing.

Boston 2024 Olympic Bid Depiction (Source: Boston 2024)

Boston 2024 Olympic Bid Depiction (Source: Boston 2024)

The IOC requires final nominations in writing by September 15 after which National Olympic Committees, including the USOC, won’t be able to change the city they’ve put forward.  If the USOC backs Boston after a November referendum is called – they risk missing out on 2024 altogether should the city be forced to withdraw on negative results.

The alternative would be to try to make amends with either Los Angeles, San Francisco or Washington – the three other cities that campaigned for the nomination – and back them instead.

Earlier this week Berlin declared that a referendum on its 2024 bid would occur September 13, just two days before the nomination deadline.  The German sports authority (DOSB) will choose between the capital and Hamburg on March 21 but  the latter city is also considering its own referendum prior to the deadline.

There are recent precedents for this risk.  Only last year Krakow, Poland was forced to abandon their 2022 Winter Games bid when a referendum on the issue failed part-way into the campaign.

During the 2010 Winter Games bid campaign both Berne, Switzerland and Vancouver held referendums after they had entered the race.  Berne lost its vote and was forced to quit while Vancouver enjoyed positive results and went on to win the bid and host the Games.

Denver was forced to relinquish the 1976 Winter Games it had already won after voters refused to approve required funding midway through preparations.  Instead, the Games went to Innsbruck, Austria.

On January 15 the IOC started its new invitation phase where potential bid cities liaise with the organization to share ideas and possibilities.  Maybe they’ll have some advice for the USOC because this is certainly not how Boston 2024 wanted the campaign to kick off.

The IOC will elect its 2024 host city 2017 in Lima, Peru.

About Robert Livingstone

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.