The case for New England's unloved second city and its supporting role in #Boston2024.
Boston will represent the United States in its bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. But, sorry Boston—you actually aren't the biggest winner here. In fact, you aren't even the biggest winner in your state. That glory goes to Worcester, Massachusetts.
New England's second-largest city is known for—well—nothing. Worcester played no role in helping Boston secure its Olympic bid. Worcester will probably contribute none of the roughly $10 to $20 billion needed to finance the 2024 event (if Boston locks it up). Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and the rest of the Summer Olympians have probably never heard of Worcester. But the city, located 45 miles west of Boston, will earn the biggest return from a Boston Olympics.
The city of 180,000 is already planning to pitch its imperial neighbor for a role in the Olympic events. "It's important for us to start putting together a delegation that could reach out to the Boston organizers, and on behalf of the city of Worcester make a presentation to them," Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty told reporters Thursday after Boston had solidified its 2024 bid.
Sure, the so-called "Capital of New England" will scoff at Worcester's overtures at first. In all likelihood, Boston will want to host the 2024 games exclusively within the city and its adjacent municipalities (i.e, Cambridge). But doing so would be perilous.
Boston—stretching only 48 square miles—is too small to take on the games alone (2012 Olympic host London is 700 square miles). If the games are concentrated too heavily downtown, the tourist volume could easily overwhelm the city's narrow road infrastructure. (the 2012 summer games generated 900,000 Olympic tourists. An equal figure would nearly triple Boston's population overnight). Already, a dearth of venue capacity is raising concerns about the Boston bid, says the New York Times.
Similar to D.C.'s failed Olympic bid, which planned to outsource some Olympic events to Baltimore and Richmond, #Boston2024 will be best served by a sidekick. And that sidekick is Worcester.
How exactly does a no-name city like Worcester contribute to Boston's Olympic bid? With cheap accommodations, a convenient commute, and a world-class rowing stage.
As my colleague Kriston Capps explains, Boston won the U.S. Olympic bid partly because of its robust university housing. Worcester, however, is the northeast's most understated college town. It is home to 9 colleges and universities that would provide great housing to Olympic tourists traveling on a tight budget. Worcester Polytechnic Institute's 89,000 square foot dormitory complex, valued at $39 million, for instance, was recently profiled by the The New York Times. Rental-property prices skyrocket during the Olympics (see Rio's favelas, for example). Boston and its sizable university housing might look like a great option now, but wait nine years. When the potential Olympic games get underway, those college dorms are going to be pricy. But not Worcester's.
Worcester's viability as a commuter city for the 2024 games shouldn't be overlooked, either. Going from Union Station in downtown Worcester to Back Bay in the heart of Boston by train takes an hour. It only costs $10. And, according to the latest MBTA statistics, 8,000 residents of central Massachusetts rely on the Worcester commuter rail each morning to get to work in Boston. And Worcester's inter-city public transit is also expanding. Olympic spectators who choose to lodge in Worcester would additionally benefit from a new $14 million bus terminal that's conveniently located next to the city's train station.
No Bostonian will tell you that Worcester would be a good location for an Olympic event. But they're wrong. The U.S. Olympic Committee would be making a huge mistake if it didn't ask Worcester to host the 2024 rowing events. Boston has the Charles River, but it doesn't have Lake Quinsigamond. Known locally as "Quinsig," it's been host to rowing competitions since 1857, including the U.S. Nationals in 1979 and the U.S. Masters Nationals in 2005 and 2012. Its considered the fourth-best body of water for rowing in the world, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Regardless of whether Boston wins the final Olympic bid or, or if it hosts the games and they end up being a total flop, Boston's aura will remained unchanged. It's the unquestionable urban hub of the Northeast, with or without the Olympic games.
But if the games do take place there, a new light will shine on Worcester—and that makes the city the biggest winner in Boston's successful U.S. Olympic bid.