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Community mulls pros, cons of bid for olympics

Roxbury residents wary of Franklin Park use

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Community mulls pros, cons of bid for olympics
People gathered to watch a performance in Franklin Park. (Photo: Photos Courtesy Franklin Park Coalition)

Author: Photos Courtesy Franklin Park CoalitionFranklin Park, the largest park in Boston’s Emerald Necklace, is a popular area for a multitude of community activities for all ages, from line dancing to organized foot races to picnics and performances. Some worry that use as an Olympics venue in 2024 could mean restricted park access for residents or excessive damage from horses.

The United States Olympic Committee’s announcement Jan. 8 that Boston will be its sole U.S. contender for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games — and that Franklin Park in Roxbury could be tapped as an event venue — has created a local flurry of fears, hopes, and most of all, questions.

In the 10 days after the announcement, few details were certain about Boston’s Olympic bid, which was formulated by a private group of area business and civic leaders called Boston 2024. The group was scheduled to make the bid public in an unveiling after Banner press time this week. But both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald ran graphics showing events and possible venues, including equestrian and pentathlon events in Franklin Park.

Franklin Park concerns

Franklin Park Coalition Executive Director Christine Poff said her coalition has not taken an official position on the Olympic bid, but she can name several concerns she and the group have.

“Franklin Park is an important community park,” Poff told the Banner. “We are concerned that being the biggest park, in terms of acreage, we would be the obvious choice. We’ve researched what an equestrian site would involve. They would need the whole park and maybe part of the [William Devine] golf course. Horses can really tear up the turf. And 220 acres is woodland — they could really damage that.”

The group worries that the park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th century and the largest piece of Boston’s “Emerald Necklace,” could be left in poor condition, and that public access to the park would be limited not only during the Summer Games, but well in advance of them, Poff said.

On the other hand, she acknowledged that some positive effects could come out of the plan, such as improved public transportation access to Franklin Park and renovations to White Stadium.

“We’re trying to look at it all, and not form strong opinions yet,” Poff said. “But people are worried. It would change the park and possibly decrease access. Given that the Olympics is so expensive, we worry the park would be left a mess, with no money to restore it.”

Dan Richardson, a lifelong Bostonian who lives near Franklin Park and said he has been enjoying the park for “three-quarters of a century,” expressed reservations about its use as an Olympics venue.

“The park needs a lot of work just to keep it up as a resource and a refuge for people, without turning it into a resource for outside the community,” Richardson said.

Richardson remembers a time when horseback riding was a popular activity on the park’s trails.

“It would be nice to have young people from the surrounding communities learn how to ride again,” he said. “It would be a little ironic to have equestrian events in Franklin Park when the community doesn’t have access to those uses.”

Public meetings to come

Mayor Martin Walsh has voiced support for the Boston 2024 bid, but the City of Boston had few details to share at this early stage beyond a notice of nine upcoming community meetings to be held across the city, with the first scheduled for Jan. 27.

Author: Photos Courtesy Franklin Park CoalitionFoot race through Franklin Park.

“We’re looking forward to the start of a comprehensive process to meet with residents all across Boston, to solicit feedback and discuss how a potential Olympics would impact each neighborhood,” said Laura Oggeri, the city’s chief communications officer. Oggeri referred questions about specific venues to Boston 2024.

Doug Rubin, advisor and spokesperson for Boston 2024, said an Olympic bid for Boston has the potential to benefit the city and all of its residents for the short- and long term. He cited employment and small business opportunities as well as athlete housing that could later add to the area’s affordable housing stock.

“This is an opportunity to talk about not just 2024, but 2030 and 2040,” he said. “We can start to plan for Boston’s future with significant investments in infrastructure. I think the mayor has been very clear that this bid only works if it’s consistent with our long-range planning.”

As for Franklin Park, if it were to be used as a venue, Rubin said there would be improvements to White Stadium and the plans would certainly include sufficient post-Olympics clean-up. But, for Roxbury and any neighborhood, he said, “If any community has concerns, those will be listened to, and we’ll look at other options.”

Representatives of Boston 2024 will be present at the city’s upcoming public meetings on the Olympics, he said.

It will be more than two years before Boston finds out if it indeed has the opportunity to host the games. Rubin stressed that there is still plenty of time for a community process before the bid is even made, and that no venue decisions are set in stone. Boston organizers have until September 15 to inform the IOC they will bid, and then until early 2016 to submit the official bid. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will weigh Boston — the sole U.S. contender — against other bidding cities around the globe and announce their selection in summer 2017.

On the Web

Boston 2024:

Opposition groups:

Official Olympics website:

Franklin Park Coalition:

Equity potential seen

State Rep. Liz Malia, whose 11th Suffolk district includes Franklin Park, declined to weigh in on pros and cons before seeing Boston 2024’s bid documents, but emphasized in a statement that the process must be transparent.

Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley said she plans to pay close attention to the city’s upcoming community meetings and other developments in the Olympics bid.

“The Olympics as a topic has certainly picked up in recent days with the announcement of the community meetings,” she said. “I’m very encouraged that we’re moving toward a direction of greater transparency and partnership with neighborhood residents. It’s really important that neighborhoods and residents are being engaged in a meaningful way.”

Pressley said she is still in the “discovery phase” with insufficient information to support or object to the bid, but sees the potential for something positive to come out of it — for instance, a large amount of work that could be directed to minority- and women-owned business enterprises.

“I appreciate the vision, and why the mayor sees this as an opportunity, but I have to do my due diligence to see that it meets the needs of the community,” she said. “If we are to move forward, I want it to reinforce other goals. It’s an opportunity for equity in MBE and WBE contracts. Boston could be the model with a project of this scale for inclusion and for addressing income equality.”

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