Boston bid for 2024 Games has New England states dreaming of Olympic gold
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- If Boston successfully lands the 2024 Olympic Summer Games, some of its New England neighbors hope all that gold, silver and bronze adds up to green.
Officials in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut say a winning Boston bid could mean a huge economic boon to their states, each near enough to attract visitors, foreign competitors and maybe even some Olympic events.
A Boston Olympics also could spur improvements to transportation systems -- some of them sought since the 2000 games in Sydney.
"I think it could be a very good thing for the whole region," Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said.
The U.S. last hosted the Summer Games in 1996 in Atlanta. This time, Boston faces competition from Rome, Paris, Germany and South Africa. The International Olympic Committee will pick the host in 2017.
Raimondo said she has spoken with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker about collaborating and plans to put together her own team to explore how Rhode Island could benefit from Boston's bid.
For example, Newport is known for world-class sailing and tourism officials hope to convince organizers they could put the sailing competition there. It's a former home of the America's Cup, and it will be the only U.S. stop for the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race in May. The city also is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which could host matches if Olympic organizers are willing to use grass courts like they did at Wimbledon during the 2012 London games.
But those venues may be a tough sell: Boston's bid stressed it would be one of the most compact games ever, allowing athletes and spectators to mostly walk or use mass transit.
Officials in Connecticut are offering up facilities too, including the XL Center and the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, the Rentschler Field stadium that is home to the University of Connecticut Huskies football team and the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven.
"We threw it in there saying, 'Hey, it's worth a shot,'" said Michael Freimuth, executive director of Connecticut's Capital Region Development Authority. "Ninety miles away is not a big leap for these international events."
To the north in New Hampshire, a Boston Olympics could provide a boost to long-sought efforts to extend commuter rail into the southern part of the state, a nearly quarter-billion dollar project that's been pushed for the past 15 years.
"Everybody right now is very excited about the potential for the Olympics coming here in 2024," said Mike Izbicki, chairman of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Association. "There's a lot of positive energy here. It's a good time to be talking about transportation."
Izbicki said if the project comes together as hoped, it could be completed by 2020.
Tom Malafronte, an assistant director at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire, said the airport is well-positioned to support the influx of athletes and spectators, taking some of the load off Boston's Logan International Airport.
"The bottom line is it would be a huge boost not only for the state of New Hampshire, but the region," Malafronte said.
Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said T.F. Green Airport could see a similar boost.
Even if events are held solely in Massachusetts, the region will still benefit, said Evan Smith, head of the regional visitors' bureau Discover Newport. Olympic spectators will travel throughout New England and people watching on television could be enticed to plan trips.
"New England would be featured in media all over the world," Smith said. "So it's going to not only induce travel during the Olympic experience, but set the seeds for travel for years to come."
Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts is a possible venue. The stadium is home to the NFL's New England Patriots and visiting NFL teams often stay in Providence because it's closer to the stadium than Boston. The same could be true of international Olympic squads looking to save a few bucks.
Any events in Foxborough would bring business to Rhode Island hotels and restaurants, said John Gibbons, who runs the sports division at the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the Olympics could present opportunities for badly-needed infrastructure improvements, and in New Hampshire, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said a winning bid would be a welcome showcase for the region.
"It's an exciting opportunity and I'm eager to support Boston's bid however I can," she said.
In Massachusetts, there is some concern about the downsides of a winning bid, much of it centered on the traffic problems it could cause in a famously congested city.
Critics also fear the games could cost taxpayers billions, despite what Olympics supporters promise. Boston's bid has an operating budget of less than $5 billion, practically austere compared with earlier competitions. The 2012 London games cost about $14.3 billion and the 2008 games in Beijing cost about $40 billion.