Monday, January 12, 2015

Please Not Boston for the 2024 Olympics

In the news recently in Boston, Massachusetts we learned that the US Olympic Committee voted for Boston as the city to present to the IOC for the US bid to host the 2024 Olympics.  This is bad news all around.  Let me explain my position:

One thing that I have heard on some news segments as well as in some articles online is that these are the 2024 games.  That's so far away that we don't need to be worrying about it now.  But we do.  That's 9 years away, which is not very long.  This is exactly with the IOC is selecting a city to host it this year.  You need all that time to prepare.

Another thing I see a lot of complaining about is the transparency of the process.  I don't really care about that.  The US Olympic Committee is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.  The only way it can exist is through significant donations.  These organizations are not eligible for direct government funding.  Private donations and grants are the key to a non-profit organization's survival.

Because hosting the Olympics is a very expensive proposition, it makes sense that the proposals are on the order of billions of dollars and there are not many people that can do that.  So you need the backing with a lot of money to make a proposal to host.  Fine.  So how it usually works is developers (and I mean the term in the broadest definition, producers, marketing people, salesmen.....really anything) collaborate to put together a proposal.  The US Olympic Committee then has a few rounds of voting and the short list is produced for a final vote.

The short list for the 2024 Olympics had Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington (DC).  Boston was selected.

The vast majority of things needed to host the Olympics would be paid for through private investors.  A concern I see in the news is that the tax payers will have to be writing checks to build stadiums.  It doesn't really work that way.  It's complicated, yes, but you won't be getting a bill for your part of a stadium construction cost.

There are infrastructure improvement projects that have to be taken in to account as well.  Transportation is always something that cities have to consider and that may mean more transit stops or widening of roads or things like that.  While the money to pay for it comes from complicated sources and directly from taxes, it does require the involvement of the government to oversee and coordinate the work, which takes away from other projects that might be scheduled or needed.

Basically, hosting the Olympics is like asking to cut in line with your giant infrastructure improvement projects.

That's just part of the problem to me.  The other problem is the disruption to everything it will cause for years and for years after.  I went through this for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  Yes, everyone was very excited that Atlanta won the bid and a huge multiyear long set of constructions projects began.  And construction (and destruction) continues after the Olympics.  It's very annoying.

Which brings me to my list.  I've seen lots of lists posted about why Boston should not host the 2024 Olympics.  I agree, and here's my list:
  • It will cost the Greater Boston area a lot of money.  Money we don't need to spend for an event that takes place over a few weeks.  Businesses and governments will either directly or indirectly pay for hosting the Olympics and there will be no return on it except to say that Boston got to host the 2024 Olympics.  WOW!  COOL!  Can you tell me who hosted the 1988 games1?  Or the 1956 games2?  Maybe?  Who cares?  It's a pointless claim to fame.
  • It will build structures we don't need.  Stadiums that are used for the opening and closing ceremonies.  A velodrome?  An aquatics center?
  • No matter what Boston does to host the Olympics, the city will be the punchline of jokes for years to come.  It always happens.  Does Boston really want to sign up for that?  It gets old and tiring.  Do you think residents of Sochi still get amused at people asking if their hotels have working plumbing (when, in actuality, it was likely just a few reporters who got some shitty rooms)?
  • The Greater Boston transit infrastructure will be pushed to its limits and and it will fail.  The Green Line, especially.  Sorry, I love the Green Line and I think the MBTA does a great job keeping it running, but it will not be able to handle Olympic throughput.
  • Security costs.  The 1996 Olympics had a bombing and the Boston Marathon was bombed two years ago.  It follows that security for the Olympics would be above and beyond whatever is usually done for any existing Boston events.  And we will pay for that.
A common claim is that hosting the Olympics is good for a city or region's economy.  In Atlanta we were told that.  It didn't really help out like people thought.  There was some impact, but not nearly enough to recoup the cost of construction and inconvenience.  Here are the things I remember from the 1996 Olympic construction and what the current status is:

1996 Olympic VenueCurrent Status
Centennial Olympic StadiumImmediately altered after the games concluded, became the new home of the Atlanta Braves. The Atlanta Braves are in the process of constructing a new venue outside of the city of Atlanta. Plans for this venue are up in the air, but it will likely be demolished.
Georgia Tech Aquatic CenterBuilt next to the existing Student Athletic Complex, it became part of that after the Olympics. Underwent major renovation in 2001, then again in 2003, and continues to be part of the current Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech, though much less in its Olympic form.
The Omni ColiseumThis was not built for the Olympics. It was an old Atlanta venue and was where the Atlanta Hawks played. It hosted volleyball for the Olympics, but it really should have been demolished before the games. It was demolished in 1999 to build Phillips Arena where the Hawks and the Thrashers played (until the Thrashers moved to Canada).
Stone Mountain Tennis CenterTurned over to the Stone Mountain Park after the games and used for tennis by guests. Not maintained and basically started falling apart so they closed it in 2007. Plans to renovate it exists, though it hasn't happened yet.
Velodrome and Archery RangeBuilt at Stone Mountain Park, these were demolished in 2003 to turn it back in to a park.
Centennial Olympic ParkHosted all kinds of events and activities for visitors. Immediately vacated and returned to undesirable part of city after the games. Area changing in the past ten years. The Georgia Aquarium and The World of Coca Cola have moved to this area. Phillips Arena and the CNN Center are also here. And some hotels. You can buy a Coke on every corner.

And that's just the few I can remember.  The 1996 games were held all over.  Alabama, Florida, but not Tennessee (sorry, Tennessee).  I have no idea what happened with venues in those locations.  They also built a lot of stuff along the Ocoee River in North Georgia and some stuff at Lake Lanier for events held there, but I don't know what happened to any of it.

None of the things above had a lasting impact on the economy.  Maybe the stadium which became the new home for the Braves and perhaps boosted sales.  But the Braves were already doing better before the Olympics having had their "worst to first" years in the Atlanta-Fulton County Municipal Stadium.

Boston will end up with junk like this.  We don't need speciality venues.  I have read in some articles that the idea of temporary venues could be a possibility.  I'm not opposed to that, but I'm not sure how temporary a venue can be.  It's more like you're just planning to tear it down immediately after construction.

What about transporation overhaul?  Comparing to the 1996 Olympic games, Atlanta added 2000 buses just for the Olympics.  MARTA expanded the rail system with Buckhead, Medical Center, and Dunwoody stations creating their North Line.  That opened just before the Olympics (I think, it's been a long time).  They operated over 200 rail cars 24 hours a day for the entire Olympics.  That's pretty common for cities that host, but can the MBTA hold up to that.  Again, I'm thinking the Green Line.

I hope that Boston is ultimately passed over by the IOC.  The region does not need to host the Olympics.  It's a huge financial commitment and the money can be better spent on other things.

Hey, I found this:

1 Seoul, South Korea (which I did actually know because a friend in elementary school was from South Korea and they went back for the games and brought us back a gift)
2 Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


Ed Blair said...

Wait, the Thrashers moved?!

I heard a rumor that the Boston velodrome would be converted immediately into the worlds largest chowder (chowdah?) bowl for entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.

On the topic of Centennial Olympic Stadium/Turner Field, I think the most credible plan out there is that it would be acquired and modified by Georgia State as a multi-use athletic facility.

dcantrell said...

That would be entirely too much chowder.

If GSU was able to get Turner Field, I could see that having a positive effect on the area.