Baker 'pretty sure' statewide Olympic venues in the works

While claiming no direct knowledge of the plans of Boston Olympics supporters, Gov. Charlie Baker believes the next iteration of their proposal will trade walkability for athletic competitions spread out across the state.

"I certainly think that version 2.0 is going to look a lot different from the first version," Baker told reporters Friday afternoon. He said, "I don't have any insider knowledge here. The original proposal was built on this idea of a walkable Olympics, and I'm pretty sure at this point we're going to see venues around the Commonwealth as part of this second proposal."

Boston 2024, the non-profit backing the city as a potential host for the Summer Games in nine years, has been beset by a determined opposition since the U.S. Olympic Committee selected it as the nation's standard-bearer in the international bidding.

When backers revealed much of what they had planned in January, David Manfredi, an architect who is a co-chairman of Boston 2024's Master Planning Committee, said it would be "the most walkable games in modern times" and focused in Boston and Cambridge.

Since then, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have called for events spread around the Bay State. And Boston's transit system, the MBTA, broke down during particularly harsh winter weather, sparking competing ideas for how to fix it. Baker and legislative leaders are also closing in on picking a consultant to help them untangle all the impacts of an Olympics bid.

A bid featuring games spread out throughout the state could broaden the base of support for a Massachusetts Olympics based in Boston, although that remains to be seen.

Bid documents not previously disclosed were revealed to the public last week by Boston Magazine and the Boston Business Journal. The documents showed the plan incorporated an expanded Boston Exhibition and Convention Center, including associated utility infrastructure and a headquarters hotel that was part of the project.

After openly considering whether to proceed this spring, Baker halted the $1 billion expansion plan, which had been authorized by the Legislature last year. Baker said last week that no one told him the expansion was part of the Olympic plans.

"It came up briefly in a meeting with 2024 in which they said that it wasn't fundamental to their bid. In all those conversations nobody ever said to me that this was a critical part of their proposal," Baker said.

Boston 2024 concurred that the group told the governor the expansion was not essential. "As with each venue, we have multiple contingencies. Our bid does not rise or fall on the expansion of the BCEC and we have conveyed that to the Governor and his team," Boston 2024 Chief Operating Officer Erin Murphy said in a statement.

In early March, Baker told reporters he was evaluating whether to proceed with the convention center expansion, and the governor was briefed by top Boston 2024 officials in late March. The governor announced he was "pausing" the expansion in late April.

In its statement to the News Service, Boston 2024 did not say whether the governor was accurate in his belief that the next plan would "look a lot different from the first version." Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey has said the "2.0 version of our plan" will be released in June.

Secrecy surrounding the effort and revelations about instances where claims by the group do not match the facts on the ground have provided fuel for the opposition, and at a Boston City Council meeting in May, U.S. Olympic Committee member Angela Ruggiero said there is "no guarantee" Boston will actually get the nod in September, the deadline for officially declaring a bid to the International Olympic Committee.

Asked whether Boston 2024 is "being honest with the public," Baker said, "That's a hard question to answer because I haven't been at all the public meetings; I haven't been part of all the discussions. I can tell you that in their dealings with us I believe they've been honest, yes."


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