Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
By refusing to sign a contract to guarantee the costs of hosting the games, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh may have put an end to the U.S. bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Last January, when Boston won the right to bid as the U.S. host city for the 2024 Summer Olympics, the city faced competition from a two-time host city and other strong contenders. Now, six months later, Boston is throwing in the towel.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced Monday that he will not sign a contract guaranteeing the costs to host the 2024 Olympics. His decision effectively scuppers the #Boston2024 bid, which has undergone several changes since the U.S. Olympic Committee picked Boston in January. (UPDATE 3:11 p.m.: The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Olympic Committee has offically canceled the Boston 2024 Summer Games bid.)
As a result, the U.S. Olympic Committee could decide to change horses, moving forward with another city that submitted a bid to host the games. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., were all runners-up. But in reality, Walsh may have just canceled the U.S. bid altogether.
Walsh said that the committee has pressured Boston to commit to signing a contract that would put taxpayers on the line for any cost overruns involved with hosting the games—costs that are practically guaranteed in an era of soaring construction costs and ever more ambitious stadiums and venues. Walsh’s enthusiasm for a Boston Olympics has waned alongside public opinion, which has dipped over concerns about public financing.
Earlier this month, Tokyo scrapped its plans to build a $2 billion stadium as the centerpiece of the 2020 Summer Games. Prominent Japanese architects attacked the design (by Zaha Hadid) as out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood; the costs of the project were also likely driven up by soaring constructions costs across Japan. Boston’s planned stadium is modeled after the temporary venue used for the 2012 Summer Games in London—where construction costs for converting the venue after the Olympics have soared far beyond early estimates.
Late last year, Oslo withdrew its bid to host the 2022 Winter Games. The capital of Norway was considered the frontrunner after Stockholm, Krakow, and Lviv all dropped out of the bidding process. Only two cities remain as potential hosts: Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The winner, which will be selected on July 31, will mark the third consecutive Olympics held in Asia.
Looking ahead to 2024, the U.S. Olympic Committee still has time to pick a different city: The deadline to nominate a host city is September 15. But it’s really Boston or nothing—and Boston has all but rejected the offer. Walsh’s press conference comes in advance of a call between the committee and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who has to date signaled no strong interest in the Olympics.
In June, Boston released a Bid 2.0 in an effort to shore up support among Bostonians. Backers have tried to assure voters that Boston 2024 will pay for venues and operations and also secure insurance to protect the public from any cost overruns, leaving the state responsible only for some infrastructure costs. But with the details about that insurance plan still elusive, Walsh won’t sign a contract that commits Boston to any costs at all.
Boston didn’t fall out of love with the idea of hosting the games; the city just doesn’t want to pay for it. While majorities of Boston voters and Massachusetts voters supported a bid that did not require any public funding, according to recent polls, the overwhelming majority of voters don’t think such an Olympic Games is possible.
In the near future, the O.S. Olympic Committee will need to decide whether it can afford to stick with Boston while the city susses out an insurance plan for costs overruns that are likely inevitable. (The Olympics weren't as bad to London as some other host cities, but the benefits have yet to really materialize.) In the long run, however, it’s the International Olympic Committee that needs to think about the future.
So long as the IOC favors architectural extravagance over smart reuse, more and more U.S. cities will come to question the wisdom of bidding to host the games. And as other Western prospective host cities do the same, hosting the Olympics will fall to those cities too despotic to worry about costs or desperate for world favor to care.