Boston Olympic group urges statewide referendum on 2024 bid

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BOSTON (AP) — The group behind Boston's bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics said Tuesday that it wants the residents of Massachusetts to decide whether the effort to bring the games to the city should go forward.

John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024, told a gathering of business leaders that the privately funded organization would help gather signatures to put a referendum on the November 2016 state ballot.

If the referendum were defeated, Fish promised that the group would end its bid and not submit a final proposal to the International Olympic Committee. He went further, saying that even if the Olympic effort were endorsed by voters statewide but rejected within the city of Boston, the organization would still pull the plug.

The IOC is expected to choose a host for the 2024 games in 2017. Boston, selected by the United States Olympic Committee as the U.S. bid city, is expected to face competition from several world cities, including Rome and Hamburg, Germany.

Boston 2024 would work prior to the referendum to construct the best possible bid before leaving it to voters to "make the final decision on whether we have achieved those goals," said Fish, the chief executive of Suffolk Construction Co.

Mayor Marty Walsh, a strong backer of the Olympic bid, issued a statement supporting the remarks made by Fish at a breakfast meeting of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

"Hosting the Olympic Games presents an opportunity to envision and build together the next chapter in Boston's history," Walsh said. "The success of our bid for the Olympics depends on the support of residents and we should only move forward in a way that will bring the greatest benefit to the city and its neighborhoods."

Public skepticism appears to be reflected in recent polls, including one conducted for WBUR-FM that revealed only 36 percent support for the bid among the more than 500 Boston-area residents surveyed.

Critics have questioned claims by Boston 2024 that no state or city funds would be required to pay operating costs for the games. On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders announced plans to hire a consultant to advise them on the Olympic bid, specifically on whether state taxpayers would be on the hook for any cost overruns.

Boston 2024 also faced controversy after disclosing that a consulting agreement with former Gov. Deval Patrick called for him to be paid $7,500 for each day he traveled overseas on behalf of organizers. Patrick later announced that he would forgo the consulting gig.

The state's top elections official said Tuesday that the wording of an Olympic ballot measure would be critical.

"It has to be as straightforward question," said Secretary of State William Galvin. "If you want it, you vote yes, if you don't want it, you vote no."

Galvin also suggested that an easier route to the ballot, apart from gathering tens of thousands of signatures, would be to simply ask the Legislature to approve a non-binding referendum. While such a question would not have the force of law, he said there should be no dispute if all parties agreed to abide by the results.

A group formed to oppose the bid said it hoped to work with the Olympic supporters to craft appropriate language.

"We need to ask voters if taxpayers should be on the hook if things don't go according to Boston 2024's plan," said No Boston Olympics, in a statement.

The organizing group has said its $9.1 billion operating budget would come from a variety of sources, including corporate sponsorships, TV revenue, ticket sales and federal security funding and that insurance policies would be secured to protect against cost overruns.