Boston Mayor Martin Walsh joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday to discuss the end of Boston’s Olympic bid for 2024. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
On Monday the United States Olympic Committee and Boston 2024 ‘jointly ended’ Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics.
“Thinking back on the Olympic bid, it was a great opportunity that we had here in the city potentially,” Walsh said. “I still view it that way. But we just couldn’t make it work.”
When asked about his press conference on Monday, Walsh clarified his reasoning for not giving his stamp of approval to the bid and how he had anticipated the bid would affect Boston residents.
“My statement was the right thing to do to let people know that I was not just going to sign an agreement that potentially could cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars if there were overruns, or if there were problems,” Walsh said. “I think the fact that we weren’t given an appropriate amount of time to be able to put a full bid together, that was unfortunate. New York and Los Angeles and Atlanta and Chicago, these other cities that went for the bid, they had a two-year period between the time they were selected by the USOC and when they had to put their application in to the IOC. … We were given several months.
“There were a lot of critics of the plan, and … a lot of it was based on taxpayers’ dollars. … I don’t think [taxpayers] fully understood what the commitment was by me or other people not to use taxpayers’ dollars. Certainly everyone knows today what the commitment was.”
Walsh said he didn’t think the bid was doomed from the start, however there were some aspects of the plan that bore too many potentially negative complications to ignore.
“I honestly felt that we could come up with a plan that would cover any overruns [the Olympic bid] might incur,” he said. “I looked at private developers building construction, the developer would have an insurance policy, the construction company would have an insurance policy and on top of that we were putting a blanket insurance policy to cover anything else. My concern was, ‘How do you cover it?’ I was unclear on, ‘How do you fully cover any potential overruns?’
“We talked to insurance companies and they were willing to look at it. Chicago had it down there and construction companies do it all the time, as do developers. They constantly have insurance in case of circumstances that are beyond the control of the construction project. So it happens already. But again, in the case of a company going bankrupt, that’s an unforeseen circumstance and the insurance covers that, but we weren’t able to get to that so I felt it was something that was important for us to finalize before I move forward.”
According to Walsh, he began to second-guess Boston 2024’s plan over the last week and a half, finally voicing his concerns at Monday’s press conference.
“I was optimistic until probably about a week and a half ago,” Walsh said. “I really felt that when Steve Pagliuca’s plan came out and he talked about his plan, I thought that it was a very good, solid plan. Obviously it would evolve and change. The revenue side of it I thought was a very good, well-thought and true plan as well. … When the [insurance plan] didn’t happen and then the USOC was starting to ask, ‘Where’s the Mayor in this?’ and one of the board members in the [Boston] Herald said yesterday, ‘We need the Mayor to be committed,’ if people didn’t realize that I was not committed to this thing then they wouldn’t know anything.
“I was actually excited about it. I thought that Boston hosting the Olympics would have been a great opportunity, but for about a week and a half now I thought that this thing was spinning our wheels here and we’re not gaining the traction we need on the ground. And then when they were insisting that I sign the document to cover any potential overruns, I knew that was something I wouldn’t do. … And that’s why yesterday happened.”
Instead of second-guessing what Boston 2024 could have done differently, Walsh suggests that the organization and the city should take lessons from the USOC bid experience.
“We all learned lessons. We were talking about building a $5 billion corporation in about three or four months here,” Walsh said. “Even City Hall, should we have been more involved at the higher level? Maybe. But I made it clear from the beginning that as mayor of the city of Boston, I’m going to continue to be mayor and the Olympics is only one piece of my day, not the entire day. For Steve Pagliuca, I would say there should be no regrets. He came in at a time and made some significant improvements and suggestions to the plan and some of those will be carried out afterwards.”
As far as Boston 2024’s plan for the renovation of the MBTA and Widett Circle are concerned, Walsh intends to incorporate the committee’s ideas into the city’s agenda in the future.
“We need to move forward with the T,” Walsh said. “There’s no question about that. The T needs to be upgraded, the T needs to be fixed. We’re talking about the city growing at an incredible clip, greater Boston is growing at a clip, and in order to grow economically you need to have a reliable, good and strong transportation system. I know the governor’s been working on that with the fiscal review board. He’s moving forward on that and at some point there will be an investment by the legislature and the governor to do something there.
“When it comes to Widett Circle, down the road we might be saying, ‘Thank god we had this conversation,’ because Widett Circle today generates about $800,000 in tax revenue and there’s potential when it’s fully built out to generate $150 million. We don’t necessarily need an Olympics to do that, but the Olympics got the conversation going, gave us some great ideas. Now we will look at that and pursue that and hopefully, potentially develop Widett Circle. When it comes to Harbor Point, there’s real potential down there to build additional housing as well as student housing for [University of Massachusetts-Boston], so some good conversation came out of this that we can incorporate into our Imagine Boston 2030 plan.”