Friday, January 23, 2015

Notes From the First Boston 2024 Citizens Advisory Group Meeting

Boston 2024 hosted its first Citizens Advisory Group ("CAG") Meeting on January 21, 2015 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The purpose of this meeting was to reach a broader public audience and to go live with the materials presented to the United States Olympic Committee. The Executive Director of Boston 2024 said that her goals were to answer questions, demonstrate proof of concept, and explain how the Olympics fit into the future of the City of Boston.

Most people attended this meeting for one of three reasons: 1) to show support and enthusiasm for bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston, 2) to express serious opposition for a variety of reasons, and 3) to learn more. As a graduate of the UMass Sport Management program and a former professional athlete, I fell primarily into categories one and three. I must admit, however, that the lawyer in me had some questions about bringing the Games to Boston -- namely concerning a lack of public input, economic impact, public safety, congestion, transportation, and waste. The good news is that many of my questions were answered at the meeting and any unanswered questions will be addressed on the Boston 2024 website.

During the meeting, I took some furious notes because I wanted to be able to report some of the highlights from the meeting on this blog. For instance, it appears that there was a shift in attitude towards Boston 2024 from the beginning to the end of the meeting. I overheard a group of individuals say that the meeting was a complete "game changer" for them. The openness of the committee alleviated their concerns about transparency. Seeing the plans for the Games answered their questions about transportation, waste, public safety and so on.

The CAG meeting was expertly run and the outcome was seemingly positive. Most of the meeting focused on why the Olympics and Paralympic Games should come to Boston in 2024. The committee explained how the Games are a catalyst for economic growth in the areas of transportation, housing, and job creation. The presentation by the Chief Architect of the games, David Manfredi, was impressive. His plans for Boston 2024 focused on three important goals: 1) designing the Olympics with the shared vision for the future of the city in mind, 2) partnering with the terrific universities in and around Boston, and 3) providing an extraordinary experience. He creatively designed a "walkable Olympics" with 28 of the 33 venues located within a 6.2 mile radius. Manfredi broke Boston down into smaller cities or "neighborhoods" for the purpose of the games: the Waterfront City, Midtown, the University City, and the International Plaza. Each will be responsible for hosting a series of events. For instance, the opening and closing ceremonies will be located at Widett Circle in Midtown -- the current site of the Boston Tow lot. The Charles River will feature hospitality barges, and beach volleyball will be held on the Boston Common. There are plans to create residential dormitories at UMass Boston to house many of the athletes. Following the games, these same dorms will be used to house students -- so exciting for UMass Boston! Most of the venues will utilize existing structures or be built for temporary use. The olympic stadium itself will be removed following the games to allow for a brand new neighborhood to exist in Boston. I recognize that many of these plans may change, but I am excited about the possibilities.

One of my favorite parts of the meeting included a brief presentation by Reverend Brown. He talked about the power of sport in the Boston community as a firsthand witness. He explained how sport is a "cauldron that melts relationship barriers" and Boston 2024 is an opportunity to bring people together.

Boston Olympian, Ruben Sanca, explained how the Olympics are a tool that can be used to inspire young athletes. He said that Olympians share three commonalities: 1) a strong belief in self, 2) interesting stories and struggles, and 3) all were inspired by other athletes before and during their own athletic careers. Sanca claims that hosting the Olympics in Boston will create new athletes and bring the community to a place it has never been before.

The question and answer session after the presentation was surprisingly calm and organized. I found it interesting that all of the recent Games held in the United States had a net positive economic impact. I enjoyed learning about how the International Olympic Committee has recently redefined its goals to include sustainability. The committee hopes that the Games will create 70,000 new jobs and 100,000 volunteer opportunities within the City of Boston. Further, it insists that there will be no adverse impact on housing. The hope is that housing will be created rather than eliminated as there is already a housing shortage in Boston. There were several comments on the topic of transportation after attendees expressed concerns about congestion. Meeting participants were reminded of how the Olympics typically take place in July and August when Boston students are out of town and people are on vacation. This means that the roads are already less crowded. In addition, many people will change their behavior during the Olympics and stay away. Plans may also be implemented to manage transportation problems during the registration and ticketing processes. For instance, London athletes received parking passes and directions upon signing up for the 2012 Games in effort to prevent overcrowding and parking problems. The committee also confirmed that public funds will not be utilized to present the Games. Further, no private lands will be taken by eminent domain. Few private lands will be needed because most of the events will utilize existing venues on a temporary basis. In addition, the committee explained how any use of private property will be negotiated in good faith and fair market prices will be paid.

Another CAG meeting will be held on Monday, February 23rd in Roxbury. The next step in the planning process is to put together the bid for the International Olympic Committee. In the meantime, I look forward to reviewing the recently released Boston 2024 documents and hopefully getting more involved from a legal perspective.

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