Mayor echoes Olympic park fix-up promises, but no new details

March 27, 2015
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Mayor Martin Walsh said that a post-Olympics Franklin Park would be renovated to the “state of the art” in a rare fix-up opportunity, speaking to reporters at a March 11 roundtable at City Hall.

But, while saying he sympathizes with people who have unanswered questions—which includes the Franklin Park Coalition—the mayor provided no new details on when or how those answers might come. Bid organizer Boston 2024 has been holding public meetings, including in Franklin Park, that have been criticized for repetition and lack of details.

In the roundtable discussion with community journalists, Walsh largely repeated Boston 2024’s general claims that the Games would spur urban redevelopment and fix up Franklin Park.

“We could use the Olympic conversation as an impetus” to renovate facilities around the City and push long-term plans forward, he said.

“I’m looking for legacy,” Walsh said. “We need the urgency of a date.”

Walsh said many of the proposed Olympic facilities—like White Stadium in Franklin Park—need to be improved regardless, and that the Olympic plan provides a date and motivation “to keep the momentum going.”

Walsh said he’s reached out to Franklin Park and the Common and assured them that, were they chosen as Olympic venues, they would be renovated to “state of the art.”

At a meeting earlier this month, Boston 2024 said a swimming pool would be a long-term legacy in Franklin Park. It also pledged to renovate White Stadium and restore Olympic-impacted park areas. But it could not fully promise long-term maintenance funding.

“We won’t have another opportunity in our lifetimes” to upgrade and renovate all the proposed Olympic venues and facilities, he said. “It’s 50 years worth of projects we can do in 10 years.”

That ties into his ordering of several types of master plans, including housing, transportation and zoning—all with an end date of 2030, Boston’s 400th birthday. Other City officials have said those plans are independent of the Olympics, but could incorporate them.

“We have to make sure to look at all these different pieces” like housing, senior services, and transportation to get Boston in shape for the future, he said.

“We have to start talking about what Boston should be in 50 years more,” or unplanned areas like the Innovation District can, and will, just “pop up,” Walsh said.

Walsh acknowledged secrecy was a problem with the bid and that questions remain unanswered, but provided no new details on what made him decide to support it.

When Walsh was running for mayor, the conversation to nominate Boston as a host city was already underway, he said. As soon as he was elected, he sat down with Boston 2024, the private nonprofit organizing Boston’s bid.

“We’re looking at an opportunity to market Boston on a world stage,” he said. “The day the announcement was made [that Boston won the U.S. bid], 85 million people tweeted about Boston. It’s a free marketing campaign.”

As for the secrecy and lack of public input in the Olympic process so far, Walsh said that was largely to do with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s bidding rules.

“I think they’ve learned a lesson on this,” he said. “I don’t think they were prepared for all the questions people had.”

Walsh said he is sympathetic with the questioning public.

“If I weren’t in those [planning] meetings, I’d be asking those same questions,” he said.

But he did not elaborate on how residents could find answers. Boston 2024 held a public meeting at Franklin Park earlier this month that left the Franklin Park Coalition saying there were still too few answers to take a stance on the bid.

The proposed Olympic bid would use White Stadium to house various horse events and the pentathlon, as well as identifying it as a back-up venue for archery. The William Devine golf course would host the cross-country horse race. In addition, the stadium is pegged as a horse venue for the Paralympic Games, which follow the main Olympics by about two weeks.

The complete bid put forth on Boston’s behalf still has not been released, with several parts, particularly financial details, withheld as “proprietary information.”

Walsh is adamant that taxpayers “will not be on the hook” for any financial shortfall as a result of the Olympics.

“I’m a realist. If it’s not a good idea for the people of Boston, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Mayor Martin Walsh speaks to a roundtable of reporters on March 11. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

Mayor Martin Walsh speaks to a roundtable of reporters on March 11. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

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