The latest “2.0” proposal for the Boston Olympics 2024 received mixed reviews from the press and public. While its images and renderings are stunning, many big questions in many quarters remain about the proposal’s finances.
According to 2.0, the Olympics will bring in about $5 billion in revenue through ticket sales, TV rights and other revenue streams. After budgeting for all expenses (new construction, amenities, operations, and services), an anticipated profit of $210 million, or just under 5%, is projected. The organizers note that design and construction contingencies are built into the budget, as is an insurance plan to cover cost overruns—though it is uncertain who would want to underwrite such a policy, given the historic record of past Olympic budget overruns.
The public’s main concern (even for its biggest fans and supporters) is whether Boston and Massachusetts will be stuck with a post-Olympics bill to cover cost overruns or unanticipated costs. The organizers appear reluctant to assure a cap on the anticipated contribution of public monies, before or after the Olympics.
Analysis of the Olympics budget reveals some estimates that give one pause. For instance, it seems unrealistic for a new stadium, even if it’s temporary, to be built for a mere $176 million, since it must have luxury boxes worthy of the fees it will need to generate to meet the Olympics’ overall revenue goals.
Since the budget is so tight and based on assumptions difficult to guarantee over the next ten years, why not take a more fiscally conservative approach, while building on the strength of Boston as a city on the water? Here’s how:
The latest plan allocates more than $2 billion for a new transit-oriented development in Columbia Point: 2,950 new housing units as an Olympic Village for athletes. This scheme would also enrich the vast underdeveloped area by UMass-Boston and the Kennedy Library. But isn’t there a cheaper way of providing housing for almost 18,000 athletes than spending 40-45% of the $4.595 billion budget for it?
Clues might be gleaned from an event Boston has sponsored in the past with great success. Sail Boston 2000, one of its Tall Ships extravaganzas, attracted 146 ships from 35 countries and an estimated 7.5 million visitors over 11 days. The entire event cost about $7.4 million and pumped some $120 million into the local economy. True, this was pre-9/11, before security costs rose—yet it makes one wonder if we could build an Olympic event that makes the most of our harbor while lowering overall costs and overrun risks.
As with Sail Boston, we could bring cruise ships to our harbor to provide temporary housing. We have plenty of piers that could accommodate ships of all kinds to dock, providing a wide array of accommodation options. A cruise ship can easily house hundreds, even thousands of people. Even if each athlete got a private cabin, marine-based temporary housing, as opposed to a new residential district in Columbia Point, could save significant money.
Opportunities to create vibrant, unique public spaces in the Seaport District are also possible. Seaport Avenue could be transformed into a lively public promenade with temporary structures housing all kinds of services and amenities. The full tool kit of “Pop-Up Urbanism” (http://www.popupurbanism.org/) could be deployed to connect the Seaport District with the Convention Center, the Fort Point Channel and the Central Business District. The “Lawn on D” is a great example of temporary public space built cost-effectively.
But if we need to build housing structures, let’s build some that float, as Wendi Goldsmith, President and Founder of the Center for Urban Watershed Renewal, suggested recently at a Boston Futures panel discussion. We can also construct water-based stadiums and public amenities—which is already being planned for in the Netherlands and other nations.
Erection of floating cities requires re-thinking the way floating architecture is tethered to the land and its infrastructure—which brings into question the very concept of infrastructure. Instead of being ”gray” (concrete-centric), a new kind of infrastructure could evolve that is informed by the “green” ecology while creating new forms of public space that are both water- and land-based. The Metabolist Movement and its utopian plans for Tokyo Bay in the early 1960s explored these ideas with a heavy emphasis on mega-structural developments. A kinder, gentler set of interventions is not only more environmentally appropriate, but is now available to us.
Ian McMillan of Hargreaves Associates proposes a “Blue” Olympics that is organized around our harbor, rivers and waterways, which he suggests making into the public armature for the Olympics.
But if we distribute our Olympic events throughout sites accessible both by land and water, we can make this a “Blue-Green” Olympics that forges strong connections between land and water. Our city has the potential to create amphibious public spaces that are inextricably linked in a way that builds on the city’s unique seaside topography and history.
This distinguishes Boston from other more inland Olympics competitors (Rome, Paris, Budapest, and even Hamburg). Our city’s genesis is tied to the harbor and the distant horizons it beckons to its shores. It is also a place where land is a refuge from the sea, thereby creating a gateway to a continent and a seaport to the freedom and innovation Boston has always fostered from its founding to the present and into the future.
Boston has an Olympic opportunity to define a new form of city-making that is about both land and water. In the process, we can make our city more resilient to climate change and the Olympics more affordable to the general public. The public’s concerns about finances can be allayed, while the city can shine as an example of creative, innovative sustainable solutions.
1. Eric Wilbur, “Boston 2024’s ‘Bid 2.0’ is already an Olympic failure,” Boston.com, June 30, 2015, http://www.boston.com/sports/olympics/2015/06/30/boston-bid-already-olympic-failure/cjQaDMYmbUic1XbAfJxRiM/story.html)
2. Boston 2024 Executive Summary, http://cdn.2024boston.org/docs/bid-2/boston2024_bid-2_executive_summary_june_29_2015.pdf
3. Andrew Zimbalist, “A look at Olympics budget points to overruns,” The Boston Globe, January 24, 2015, https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/01/23/look-olympics-budget-points-overruns/Jl0U9MAq4K5MUnYtynnlIJ/story.html
4. John Powers, “Temporary stadium plan could boost Boston’s bid,” The Boston Globe, July 5, 2015, https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/07/04/plan-for-temporary-olympic-stadium-may-boston-favor/5gMry5pxkyfLxMahupt0VK/story.html
5.Columbia Point Development Plan: Site for Athletes Village 2024, http://cdn.2024boston.org/docs/bid-2/boston2024_athletes-village.pdf
6.Scott Malone, “Backers of Boston Olympics forecast operating surplus,” Reuters, June 29, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/29/us-usa-olympics-boston-idUSKCN0P91N820150629
7.“Tall Ships leave Boston Harbor,” Associated Press, July 16, 2000, http://www.boston.com/news/packages/sailboston/ships_depart.htm