, Newburyport, MA

December 23, 2013

Area could offer venues for Olympics in 2024

By Douglas Moser
Staff writer

---- — With discussions underway in the Massachusetts Statehouse on the possibility of submitting a bid to lure the 2024 Summer Olympics to Greater Boston, some movers and shakers are beginning to wonder what events could be hosted north of Boston.

What about a triathlon starting at Lake Cochichewick in North Andover, following Route 133 through Ipswich into Gloucester and ending with a run to the base of Bearskin Neck in Rockport?

Could there be rowing or kayaking events on the Merrimack River?

How about equestrian events in Hamilton and beach volleyball in Salisbury?

Wide beaches, miles of rural roadways, a sailing culture, a large river and several facilities and arenas just 20 to 30 miles from Boston put all of Essex County directly into the sporting and diversion mix, area officials said when asked about the possibilities.

“I think people would be making a mistake if they overlooked our region and state for this,” said state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester. “We have a lot to offer.”

Many of the major arena sporting events would happen in Boston or Foxborough. But smaller events could be held at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, on the Merrimack River or along the beaches in Salisbury, on Plum Island and on Cape Ann. Lawrence’s Veteran’s Memorial Stadium is one of the state’s largest open-air stadiums.

“The Merrimack would be conducive to both rowing and canoeing activities for sure,” state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, said. “Horseback riding and equestrian activities are popular throughout the valley. And I think that visitors would find the restaurants and the cultural amenities a bonus.”

Scenic rural roads in Boxford, Georgetown, Topsfield, Rowley and other small towns could host triathlon, road race and cycling events.

“The bicycling portion of it, the terrain and byways up here would lend themselves in the rural areas to bicycling competition,” state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, said.

The Merrimack Valley’s three commuter rail lines into Boston — Lowell, Haverhill and Newburyport/Rockport — could provide transportation into the city for athletes, visitors and others who could stay outside the city in less-densely populated areas and transportation to events here for those in the Hub.

“I think it’s going to be an opportunity to house people and provide transportation to activities,” said Joseph Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce. “That would have positive impact on the tourist and restaurant industries.”

Sal Lupoli, owner of the Sal’s Pizza parlor chain and a developer in the region, said the interstates, the commuter rail lines and the airports at Boston and Manchester means the Merrimack Valley is a key spot that’s outside Boston but close enough to get into the city in short time.

“What’s so attractive also is the ability to put out the workforce needed for an event like that,” he said. “If ever the opportunity arose, you’re talking about thousands and thousands of people you’d have to mobilize. The biggest workforce to mobilize, I’d have to tell you, is Woburn and in the Merrimack Valley.”

An exploratory committee created by the Legislature to consider the prospects for hosting the 2024 summer Olympics began meeting earlier this month. It is composed of developers, business people, Boston city officials, public safety officials and state legislators led by Suffolk Construction Co. CEO John F. Fish.

It was a lawmaker from the Merrimack Valley, Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, who actually spearheaded the creation of the commission.

The group is outlining steps it will take to meet its March 1 deadline for a final report. It will review the key things the International Olympic Committee looks at when choosing a host city and determining how Boston can fulfill those requirements, committee members said at the group’s first meeting Dec. 3 at the Statehouse.

Any plan for Boston to host the Olympics and any construction and upgrades needed to pull off the event must fit into a vision for what Boston and Massachusetts need in the next 30 to 50 years. The point is to make sure the billions of dollars poured into hosting the Olympics also will produce tangible longstanding benefits for the region in housing, transportation and recreation, rather than leaving a scatter of expensive relics.

Committee member state Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, said she visited London, which hosted the Summer Olympics last year, in September for ideas on how to use the massive investment required to host the games to also redevelop a portion of that city.

“I think they’re really the model,” she told the committee Dec. 3. “They used the Olympics as a catalyst for a half-century worth of planning for the city.”

One major issue is, in a densely populated city like Boston, where to build spaces for the often obscure events and the housing for all the athletes and thousands of staff, spectators, journalists and other tourists who flock to the games.

“I think the (Democratic National Convention) proved a few years ago Boston cannot host a national event alone, and this is an international event,” Bevilacqua said. “Hotel space is critical, transportation is critical, and the Merrimack Valley is ideally located.”

Fish last week said outside-the-box thinking is necessary in planning for the Olympics.

He told commissioners that building a 16,000-person Olympic Village and a dining hall to accommodate 5,000 athletes in metro Boston may not require major new construction of permanent housing. “Density would be overwhelming long-term, which is why I want to talk about prefabrication and modular,” he said.

Describing himself as “an eternal optimist,” Fish said he sees Boston already stacking up well against the specific criteria required of a host city by the International Olympic Committee, including more than enough hotel rooms within 50 miles of Boston, a high concentration of medical facilities, expert security personnel experienced in handling large events and disasters, energy capacity and telecommunications.

Material from the State House News Service is included in this report.