Franklin Park Olympics details revealed

January 30, 2015
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By Rebeca Oliveira, John Ruch and Peter Shanley/Gazette Staff

Franklin Park’s White Stadium and William J. Devine Golf Course are officially proposed as 2024 Boston Olympics venues in bid documents finally revealed on Jan. 21 by Boston 2024.

The plans include hosting various events in a renovated stadium, and temporarily turning the golf course into a cross-country horse-race course.

The Franklin Park Coalition, a park friends nonprofit, will ask both Boston 2024 and the opposition group No Boston Olympics to attend a meeting before deciding on a pro or con stance of its own.

“We looked at the plans that were announced and hope to host a community meeting in early March with a presentation from both… [organizations] that would be followed by feedback from neighbors,” FPC President Christine Poff told the Gazette.

The JP-based opposition group No Boston 2024 has been active, too, holding a Back Bay organizing meeting last week. And the United Independent Party has suggested staging a referendum on whether to host the Games.

However, questioned by the Gazette at a Jan. 21 press conference in South Boston, Boston 2024’s then president Dan O’Connell said that he saw no potential circumstances that would lead to a withdrawal of the bid.

The bid proposes using White Stadium to house various horse events and the pentathlon, as well as identifying it as a back-up venue for archery. In addition, the stadium is pegged as a horse venue for the Paralympic Games, which follow the main Olympics by about two weeks. Boston 2024 has suggested Olympic dates of July 19-Aug. 4, and Paralympic dates of Aug. 14-25.

Based on the work involved and a similar venue’s experience at the London 2012 Games, that likely would mean shutting those sections of the park from public access for several months and possibly much longer. That would mean canceling or moving such major events as the Dominican Festival and the Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park performance series, along with numerous sports activities and fundraisers.

The plan would increase White Stadium’s capacity from 10,000 spectators to 20,000 with a temporary structure that would be removed after the Games. The golf course turned race course would have seating for tens of thousands of people, which also would be temporary. The renovated stadium would remain for later public use, and presumably the golf course would be restored or somehow improved.

It appears a main entrance to the Olympics events would be in the White Stadium area, which abuts the Parkside and Egleston Square sub-neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain. There is no discussion about what the security arrangements, which have been heavy at recent Olympics, might be like.

The City of Boston either owns or effectively controls the proposed venues. However, Franklin Park is a historic park and part of the Emerald Necklace, and such alterations typically would require a vast array of government approvals, probably including a vote of the full state legislature. The bid documents indicate that Boston 2024 would seek “omnibus state legislation to coordinate permitting” such work. The bid speaks more generally of seeking special “Olympics legislation” to either avoid or speed up the usual zoning and construction permitting processes for the entire Games.

O’Connell, who stepped down shortly after last week’s bid publication, said at the press conference that no such legislation is current planned, and that building alterations would go through normal review processes. However, the bid documents make repeated references to such legislation, both in general and specifically for Franklin Park.

O’Connell previously told the Gazette that if there is local opposition to the Olympic use of the park, other venues would be found. However, while the bid documents include alternative sites for many sports, there are no alternative venues listed for the horse events in either White Stadium or on the golf course. There is an alternative listed for the pentathlon.

The bid documents released, which reportedly omit unidentified “proprietary information,” are available at 2024boston.org/docs.

The City has scheduled nine public meetings through the summer and early fall to gather input from the community, though the last of those meetings is scheduled after the USOC’s September deadline to finalize Boston’s bid. Boston 2024 is holding meetings of a “Citizens Advisory Group”—composed of essentially anyone who attends—that will next meet Feb. 23 in Roxbury. For more information, see boston2024.org.

It is currently unclear which City officials will host those meetings, City spokesperson Laura Oggeri told the Gazette.

An illustration of the proposed Olympics horse-racing course on Franklin Park’s William J. Devine Golf Course. (Source: Boston 2024)

An illustration of the proposed Olympics horse-racing course on Franklin Park’s William J. Devine Golf Course. (Source: Boston 2024)

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