Hundreds gather at second Boston Olympics community meeting

Approximately 300 members of the Greater Boston community convened Tuesday at South Boston’s James Condon Elementary School for the city’s second community meeting regarding Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid.

The community panel featured Boston Mayor Martin Walsh; David Manfredi and John Fish, co-chairs of the Boston 2024 Master Planning Committee; and Richard Davey, CEO of Boston 2024. Moderated by John Fitzgerald, Walsh’s liaison for the bid, the meeting covered a range of topics encompassing Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid. The United States Olympic Committee chose Boston as its bid city for the 2024 Olympic Games on Jan. 8, The Daily Free Press reported.

Tuesday’s panel included issues of transportation, security and the use of buildings after the 2024 Olympics, and emphasized the potential lasting legacy on the city as a result of the construction and improvements made in preparation for the Olympics.

“It’s not about 16 days or 30 days in the summer of 2024, it’s about 2030 and … 2040 and 2050,” Manfredi said during the panel. “And the plan wants to address issues like housing, issues like improved infrastructure, transit and transportation, reinvestment in public parks and recreation spaces that are committed to the youth of the city.”

Potential venues include the University of Massachusetts Boston — proposed as Boston’s Olympic Village — Franklin Park and White Stadium, Manfredi said. Some of the intended venues, Manfredi said, already have plans to be expanded or renovated regardless of whether or not Boston is chosen by the International Olympic Committee as the host city for the 2024 Olympics.

“The Olympics needs 16,500 beds for athletes themselves, for coaches and trainers, for the immediate team,” he said. “UMass Boston is planning to build somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 beds over the next few years. So there is a real legacy. The Olympics [and] the Olympic movement can be the catalyst for helping get those done.”

Manfredi said Boston already has the transportation infrastructure needed to be successful in the 2024 Olympics as a result of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, the Boston Logan International Airport expansion and the Boston Harbor clean-up.

The fate of Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid is partially hanging on the question of federal financial assistance offered to the city, Davey said in the panel.

“We need the federal government to provide the funds to have the security at the Olympics games,” he said. “In fact, any American city would need that. This isn’t necessarily about Boston hosting the Olympics. It is about if the United States ever chooses to host the Olympics again.”

The issue of security throughout the duration of the games relies largely on the funding provided. Walsh said he envisions the security model for the Olympics being similar to that of Marathon Monday, utilizing security checkpoints to ensure Boston’s safety.

“In light of what happened last year here in Boston at the marathon, we take security very seriously,” Walsh said during the panel. “Last year at the marathon, we were able to contain large areas of land by having checkpoints at certain areas. What I would envision here in the city of Boston is around Olympic Village, wherever that ends up being, and around where the stadium is … there will be checkpoints to get into those areas like we have on Marathon Monday.”

Residents expressed concern that the process of Olympics preparation would result in a situation similar to the Big Dig, in which more money was spent than expected, and in a longer period of time. Davey, in response, said the City officials have learned their lessons and plan on incorporating private sector dollars to prevent such a scenario from happening.

“We did lose a lot of ground. It was a mess, there’s no doubt about it,” he said during the panel. “We have the ability in this city and state to do things the right way.”

The meeting was also attended by Boston City Council President Bill Linehan, Councilor Frank Baker, Massachusetts Rep. Nick Collins, Massachusetts Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and David Silk, a member of the Gold Medal-winning 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team.

Silk wore his medal from the 1980 Olympics, which were held in Lake Placid, New York, as he recalled the sense of pride he felt upon returning to Lake Placid.

“What struck me more than anything was this [Lake Placid] is where dreams came true. This is where miracles happened. This is a hallowed ground. For generations to come, this isn’t just a winter wonderland. This is an Olympic village that spawned dreams and careers and made lives and changed lives,” he said. “Through sports, incredible things can happen, personally collectively and to whole communities.”

The Boston 2024 plan will be in development over the next year-and-a-half. The next community meeting will be held at the Harvard Business School on March 31.

Several attendees said the meeting was successful because so many people of the community asked questions, but the panelists did not fully answer many of those asked.

Louise Baxter, 69, of South Boston, said she was eager to hear about how the panelists proposed to solve issues dealing with transportation during the Olympics.

“A lot of questions were asked, but the panel beat around the bush a lot, and I have a feeling they weren’t completely honest,” she said. “I’m concerned. I came to Boston as a young person. People nowadays don’t have affordable housing.”

Elizabeth McCarthy, 34, of the North End, said it was important f0r her to attend the meeting to hear the panelists’ ideas.

“I know they have information on the website, but I wanted to learn more,” she said. “The Olympics would be a great opportunity, and I think it would be good for the city.”

Edmund Schluessel, 36, of Somerville, was concerned with how the panelists would propose handling the potential rise in child trafficking rates during the Olympics, among other issues.

“I had a couple of questions lined up, others were housing and transportation,” he said. “People came away more informed. In terms of influencing, I don’t know if that really happened. While they were reaching a couple of hundred people now, really the job would have been to reach thousands of people six months ago. These are concerns people have been raising for months.”

This article was originally published in The Daily Free Press on Feb. 25, 2015.

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