Boston mayor strongly defends Olympic bid amid criticism

March 4, 2015

BOSTON (AP) Mayor Marty Walsh is defending Boston's 2024 Olympic bid in some of his strongest terms yet, saying that - win or lose - the pursuit of the games represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city and would not leave taxpayers shouldering a massive bill.

The United States Olympic Committee has selected Boston over three other cities as the U.S. bidder for the 2024 Games. The International Committee is expected to choose a host city in 2017.

On Wednesday, Walsh used the bulk of his annual address before the Boston Municipal Research Bureau to tout the benefits of the Olympic proposal, conceding that debate over the bid has generated ''more heat than light'' and that many people believed the effort would distract from the city's more immediate needs.

''There's a lot of confusion about what the facts are, about how the process works, and who's driving it,'' Walsh said in prepared remarks for his address. When he first heard of the attempt to land the Olympics, the mayor acknowledged being ''skeptical, even dismissive,'' and wanted to know how such a huge undertaking would be financed.

A group opposed to the bid - No Boston Olympics - has contended that Massachusetts taxpayers could be left footing portions of what could be a $15 billion price tag for the games and that hosting the Olympics would not produce any lasting economic benefits for the city.

But Walsh disputed that assertion.

''In other countries, governments bankroll Olympic bids and Olympic Games. That is not the case in the United States,'' he argued. ''Here, games are privately funded and ... have been fiscally sound.''

As examples, Walsh cited a surplus left from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles that went to boost youth sports in southern California, and said Olympic Park in Atlanta became a ''catalyst for downtown resurgence'' after the 1996 games in that city.

In his speech, Walsh referenced massive breakdowns that occurred on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the Boston-area's aging public transit agency, during the recent wave of winter storms that dropped more than 100 inches of snow on the city. Critics have questioned how Boston could push for the Olympics with the system in such disarray.

''Those who say the MBTA's failure is proof that we can't handle the Olympic Games have it exactly backwards,'' Walsh said.

The T's failures and the Olympic bid would serve as a ''catalyst'' to spur a major effort by Gov. Charlie Baker, the Legislature and local officials to find new solutions and invest more resources in public transportation, he said.

Even if Boston comes up short, the effort will be a boost to the city, Walsh argued. He said that while New York City did not succeed in its bid for the 2012 Olympics, the planning process led to revitalization of a blighted section of waterfront in Brooklyn.