by Lenny Pierce, Research Analyst
For every modern Olympic host city, the goal of the Games is greater than turning the world’s eyes towards yourself for two weeks or convincing the international community that yours is a world class city. Along with any sort of improved sense of status the Games can yield, there typically comes less ephemeral benefits in the form of improved infrastructure. Housing and transporting the thousands of athletes, coaches, fans and staff members that descend upon an Olympic city for two weeks in August often requires upgrades to a city’s built environment that are sometimes long overdue. At NAIOP’s “2024 Olympics: Vision, Opportunity and a Catalyst for Change” conference, National Development’s Tom Alperin moderated a discussion between Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey, Elkus-Manfredi Founding Principal David Manfredi, VHB’s Stephen Thomas and CBT Architects’ David Nagahiro to discuss their vision of critical urban enhancements a Boston Olympiad could mean for our city.
Elkus-Manfredi architects are responsible for the first set of Olympic facility renderings. David Manfredi was clear about these early plans for Boston being built around the vision of where he and others want the city to go from a development perspective. This notion was clear in their placement of the Olympic stadium in Widett Circle. Though the Olympic stadium itself would be temporary, he foresees the immediate surrounding area–a region planners have dubbed “Midtown”–as ripe for development once the games have come to a close. Manfredi described this area as a potential “transit village” in the long term that would connect South Boston and the South End. The area in question has immediate proximity to the Red Line’s Andrew and Broadway stations and is only a mile’s walk from South Station along what planners are calling the Olympic Boulevard.
Boston 2024’s bidding documents identify two major “clusters” within the city where the majority of the events would take place–the “University Cluster” which includes Harvard’s athletic facilities, and the “Waterfront Cluster” which includes the Athlete’s Village at Columbia Point. Seeing as over 1600 beds would be needed between competitors and trainers at the Athlete’s Village, construction of residences on the UMass campus would be necessary. Luckily, increased residential capacity is very much in keeping with UMass’s vision of the peninsula in the coming years–making the institution very hopeful about our bid. The residential facilities at UMass would create a more significant undergraduate community; one which could attract retail tenants going forward. Aside from the permanent buildings, the plans for UMass’ campus also call for modular residential structures that could be broken down and relocated throughout the city once the games have ended.
In the Q&A segment of the conference, one guest asked the panel if the Boston Olympics could warrant the formation of The Urban Ring–a 100 year old transit concept to connect the branching arms of Boston’s rail lines with either a rapid transit bus route or an actual subway line. Indeed, such a transit system could ease travel from Waterfront Cluster to the University Cluster, a journey that currently has no expedient public transit option. While panelists said they are primarily focused on planning the games around existing transit infrastructure, they are discussing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line connecting the Seaport to North Station and another running roughly parallel to Massachusetts Avenue, the latter of which is a path that is accounted for in renderings of The Urban Ring.
For proof of the lasting positive impact that Olympic construction can have on a host city, panelists wisely pointed to London 2012. What was once London 2012’s Athletes’ Village is now a brand new residential neighborhood dubbed the East Village consisting of 2,818 homes–1,379 of which qualify as affordable housing. And let’s not think that all is lost should we not secure the bid. Even though New York failed to secure the bid in 2012, the planning process brought a massive development opportunity into focus–the development of Hudson Yards at the prospective site of their Olympic Stadium. The Bloomberg administration repurposed many elements of their Olympic bid to put Hudson Yards in motion, a $20 billion development by Related and Oxford Properties that could span 28 acres upon completion. Since the most beneficial impact of hosting to Olympics is the physical legacy it leaves behind, and since the bidding process alone can be a major catalyst in initiating these municipal improvements, we should consider ourselves lucky that we’re even having the conversation–even if that’s all that happens.