Mayor’s new Olympic planning office raises questions

A new City Office of Olympic Planning has been created by Mayor Martin Walsh to plan and review Boston’s controversial Olympic bid. But the office is already drawing criticism for being funded by the private bidding organization Boston 2024. And the City had no answers for some basic Gazette questions about it, including its budget and its access to the secret bid documents.

With such questions left open, it remains unclear whether Jamaica Plain and Franklin Park will get answers about or input into Boston 2024’s plans for equestrian and pentathlon venues here.

The City did tell the Gazette that the Olympic office will be “housed under” the Boston Redevelopment Authority. But the City did not answer a question as to why a new office is necessary instead of letting the BRA review the plan.

Walsh last week announced the creation of the Olympic office and the hiring of Sara Myerson as its executive director, effective April 27. The office’s scope, according to a press release, includes “economic analysis, mitigation analysis, public health and safety studies, and transportation planning.”

Myerson most recently worked as chief of staff and director of policy at Preservation of Affordable Housing, a Boston-based nonprofit. She previously worked at the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs and the real estate consulting firm HR&A Advisory, the City press release notes. Among HR&A many recent projects, according to the firm’s website, was the Olympic Park created for London’s 2012 Games. According to City communications chief Laura Oggeri, Myerson was employed at HR&A in December 2012 through May 2013, which is after the 2010-2011 period HR&A reports doing that work.

The Olympic office will work “collaboratively” with Boston 2024 and the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Boston 2024 will reimburse the City for the office’s costs, the release said. Asked twice via email what the Olympic office’s budget is, Oggeri did not respond.

“The Office of Olympic Planning is an important step forward in this process, and it will build a bridge between the City’s planning and the development of the Olympic proposal,” said Walsh in the press release.

In that same City-issued press release, Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey was quoted as saying, “Our partnership with the city and our collaborative planning with Sara strengthens our bid and reflects the truly transformative experience we can deliver for Boston and for the Olympic movement.”

But such basic details as the office’s size and access to information are unclear.

Asked twice by the Gazette whether the Olympic office has access to the still-secret full bid documents, Oggeri did not respond. As for whether the “office” will be just Myerson or a staff, Oggeri said only, “The mechanics of the office are still being established.”

Oggeri also did not directly answer questions as to why the City is not using its existing planning and review agencies to review the bid. She did say the Olympic office will be “housed the under the BRA/EDIC,” but did not respond to a request to explain exactly what that means. (The BRA and the Economic and Development Industrial Corporation are technically still separate agencies, but merged offices and functions in the 1980s to become the City’s combined planning and economic development agency.)

Critics, including the protest groups No Boston Olympics and NoBoston2024, have questioned the Olympic office’s ability to do objective analysis, given that it was created in partnership with Boston 2024 and is ultimately being funded by it.

Boston 2024 even had influence on the office’s name. In press statements earlier this month saying that the office was in the works, Walsh referred to it as the Office of Olympic Accountability. Asked why the name changed from the more skeptical-sounding term, Oggeri said it was part of the “discussions with Boston 2024” about creating the office.

“As the office was further defined through ongoing discussions, the City decided to move forward with the Office of Olympic Planning,” she said. “However, there will be an accountability role within the office.”

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