BOSTON - It would be one thing to persuade the International Olympic Committee to choose Boston over other powerhouse world cities to host the 2024 Summer Games. But it's quite another to win over a skeptical populace in its own backyard.
"We have to dream big," said Richard Davey, the chief executive of Boston 2024, the group spearheading the city's bid, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Since the euphoria of being chosen as the U.S. bid city in January, the road has turned bumpy for organizers.
Controversy arose over the disclosure of six-figure salaries for several of the privately financed group's executives, and even more over a consulting arrangement with former Gov. Deval Patrick that called for a $7,500 daily fee for him to travel overseas to promote the Olympic effort. Patrick has since announced he'll forgo the consulting gig.
The current governor, Charlie Baker, cited "unanswered questions" about the Olympic plan and legislative leaders are steadfastly opposed to any state funds to offset operating costs.
A winter of record-setting snow exposed serious weaknesses in the region's aging transit system, leading some critics to question how it could ever handle Olympic crowds.
Amid such developments, a poll conducted last week for WBUR-FM of more than 500 registered Boston-area voters showed only about 36 per cent currently support bringing the games to Boston.
Davey, a former state transportation secretary, is no stranger to the challenges that often lie at the intersection of public policy and private pursuit. He remains confident that organizers can ultimately win local backing, present a bid worthy of IOC consideration and stage a successful Olympics that will pump billions into the state economy and showcase Boston to the world.
Some highlights from the interview:
The organization's $9.1 billion budget relies on several private sources of revenue: corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, merchandising and television rights. For the latter, Davey said, the International Olympic Committee was likely to contribute as much as $1.4 billion in TV revenues back to the host city in 2024. "We think the revenue will support an excellent games here," he said.
"We are not looking to the taxpayers of Massachusetts to build any venue or pay to host the games," said Davey, seeking to reassure critics who argue the state could be left footing the bill if costs outpace private investment. Yet that doesn't mean there won't be any public money supporting the games. The budget assumes about $1 billion in federal funds for security purposes, and organizers suggest the Olympics would benefit from some $5 billion in proposed state infrastructure spending likely to occur regardless of whether Boston hosts the games.
The spectre of the Big Dig hovers over the Olympic bid. Davey acknowledges how cost overruns and lingering debt from the $15 billion Boston highway project have left Massachusetts residents wary of promises that large projects can be brought in on time and on budget. Critics also cite a history of deficits run up in other Olympic cities, though Davey countered that the three most recent U.S. games — Los Angeles in 1984, Atlanta in 1996 and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City — ended with surpluses. "Boston 2024 is not assuming any debt," Davey said, and is thinking "creatively" to keep costs down.
Davey — the transit system's onetime general manager — said Massachusetts must invest more in modernizing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. But he also contended that upgrades currently in the pipeline, including new subway cars, would be sufficient to stage the games. "We think what is already planned for or already under construction are the kinds of projects that that we need to have a well-functioning Olympics," he said. Davey also noted the system's current ability to handle the Boston Marathon, an event he said draws more athletes and spectators than on a typical day in the Olympics.
Davey said he hopes to provide more clarity by the summer on prospective venues for Olympic events. A linchpin of the bid is the use of existing venues, including facilities at local universities. "We need to get into the details of what it means to their campuses," he said. Venues are likely in other Massachusetts cities, and the Olympics could extend beyond the state — early-round basketball, soccer or baseball games in cities such as Chicago, New York or Washington, for example.
Davey said he would not oppose an effort to place on the 2016 state ballot a question that would bar any state funds to support the Olympics, but indicated he would try to convince voters to reject it. "This is too complicated an issue for a yes or no question," Davey said. Nor does he believe the outcome of any referendum would doom Boston's hopes of winning the games. "The IOC wants to award the games to a city that is supportive of the games, will welcome the athletes," he said. "I think it's a very relevant question for the IOC. "
Davey has never attended an Olympics, and the first one he recalls watching on TV were the 1984 Games, when he was 11. He also has a vague memory of his parents once giving him a teddy bear wearing an Olympic belt. His favourite Olympic sport? "Probably gymnastics," he said, "because I think it's so hard."