By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Before the state determines whether to woo the world's premier wrestlers, archers and synchronized swimmers to Massachusetts with an Olympics bid, officials want to know if there would be sufficient hotel rooms, an Olympic village that sleeps 16,500 and operations space for more than 15,000 media.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat who has spearheaded the state's study of the feasibility of hosting the 2024 summer Olympics, laid out the infrastructural requirements for such an undertaking to a special commission Tuesday and later told the News Service she thought Massachusetts would receive high marks for summer weather.
A memo laying out the needs of a host city states that the Summer Games would require 40,000 rooms in predominantly 3- to 5-star hotels. The memo also leaves open the possibility of other accommodations, such as apartments or cruise ships.
According to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, about 70 percent of the state's 80,000 hotel rooms are 3-to-5 stars. The figure does not include bed and breakfasts.
"It has to work for the city and the region and the state after the Olympics are over," said Dan O'Connell, president of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership and a former member of Gov. Deval Patrick's Cabinet. He said, "The business community's going to have to step up and play a significant role."
On Tuesday morning, the Special Commission to Study the Feasibility of Hosting the Olympics in the Commonwealth in 2024 unanimously selected Suffolk Construction Chairman and CEO John Fish as the commission's chairman.
Fish told the News Service the commission would keep an open mind as it breaks into three or four subcommittees to investigate various aspects of the proposal.
"I think we need to dissect it down into smaller pieces," Fish said. He said, "We should base our findings on the facts we come up with during the next three months."
Commission members focused on the positives the Olympics could bring - a chance to reintroduce Boston to the world and to improve the state's aging infrastructure - as well as the logistical and financial challenges.
"The funding sources have not been sorted out," said Fish, who said he believed the deliberative process undertaken by the commission would lend confidence to potential corporate sponsors. He also said, "This allows us to visit a lot of the requests that have been made over the last five to seven years, from the transportation people, our secretariat, and also to realize as we continue to age and grow as a knowledge-based economy, what are our needs down the road?"
Rep. Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat, said she had taken a trip to London and learned that in planning for its Olympics the city had been able to set in motion a 50-year plan with housing and transportation components.
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins noted the questions he received from relatives after moving to Boston in 1977, during the desegregation of Boston Public Schools by busing that in many cases pitted white neighborhoods against black neighborhoods. Tompkins said he hoped an Olympics plan would be inclusionary and said the Olympics could be "a real good opportunity to talk about how effectively the city has grown."
Massachusetts has been home to some major sporting events in the past, including the World Series, National Football League playoff games, championship games for the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, as well as "March Madness" NCAA basketball games. Boston and Cambridge annually hold the premier rowing event, Head of the Charles. And the Boston Marathon, which is held concurrent with a Red Sox game, is an international event. Newport, R.I., has hosted the America's Cup, and Foxboro Stadium in Foxborough hosted a World Cup quarterfinals match in 1994, when Italy beat Spain on their way to losing to Brazil in the finals, held in Los Angeles.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, who was the Republican nominee for president last year, helped burnish his reputation by taking charge of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics after it was tainted by scandal, and Romney has offered to help Boston in a potential Olympics bid.
"He's offered to play any particular role," Fish told the News Service. He said, "I think that as time goes along, we'll see how that dovetails nicely with this particular bid."
Steve Freyer, who chaired the Boston Organizing Committee that sought to bring the Olympics to Boston in the 1990s, floated the idea of hosing rowing on Lake Quinsigamond, next to Worcester, and equestrian sports in Hamilton. Back then, there was a proposal to host the Olympic Village at local college campuses, Freyer said.
Boston Director of Arts, Tourism and Cultural Events Christopher Cook said that bringing the Olympics to the area wouldn't necessarily be purely beneficial to the hospitality industry, and said it would have to go beyond the Boston region.
"We have to remember that Boston is an incredibly small geographic area when you compare it to other cities that have bid on the Olympics," Cook said.
Fish said the commission would have to complete its work by the beginning of March, and the U.S. Olympic Committee will determine in 2014 whether the country wants to bid to the International Olympic Committee, and the IOC will decide in 2015 or 2016 what venue should host the 2024 games.