Most attendees at the latest City-sponsored Boston 2024 meeting on June 30 did not welcome the idea of bringing the Olympics to Boston with open arms. Instead, they barraged City officials with concerns ranging from security to the legacy of parks to an unwillingness to listen to the opposition.
More than 250 people attended the meeting, held at English High School in Jamaica Plain. Most of the crowd was overwhelmingly hostile to the idea of bringing the Olympics to Boston in 2024, though there were some supporters of the plan.
Many people held up protest signs with such slogans as, “Don’t play games with JP!” A smaller number of people had signs in support of Boston 2024.
After a presentation was given on Boston 2024’s revised plan, John FitzGerald of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), who has led the bid meetings, attempted to break the crowd into three groups to discuss “open space legacy,” envisioning new neighborhoods and planning for transportation’s future.
People shouted at him the whole time he talked, saying such statements as “You lie!” and “No one asked for the Olympics!” There were also objections to the new format of breaking the crowd up into small groups.
The large majority of the crowd stayed in the main auditorium for the discussion on open space, while some people filtered out for the two other discussions. Breakout-session meetings typically end with the groups reconvening to share all of their ideas, but that did not happen at this meeting. The meeting’s agenda said that notes taken by a facilitator in each group will be made public sometime afterward.
Protesters who objected to the breakout-group format also generally chose to remain in the main auditorium. Robin Jacks, who belongs to an anti-Olympics group called No Boston 2024, took officials to task for not listening to the opposition. She noted that because of the significant criticism to having beach volleyball on the Boston Commons, the venue was moved to Quincy under the revised bid. Jacks added that there has been the same opposition to Franklin Park hosting Olympic events, but it continues to be a venue under the revised bid.
“We say ‘no’ and no one is listening to us,” she said.
FitzGerald said that officials are continuing to study the benefits of venue sites and that Franklin Park may be “not the best place.”
“We hear you,” he said.
One woman, who did not wish to give her name to the Gazette, asked why it takes hosting the Olympics for the parks to get the investments that they need, pointing to the deteriorating White Stadium as an example. She also asked who would be funding the ongoing maintenance of the parks and facilities once the Olympics leave. In its current bid, Boston 2024 proposes renovating or rebuilding White Stadium with private funding.
FitzGerald said, “We don’t have money” to invest now, and that the City can use the Olympics and private money to make those investments.
“It’s much better in the long run,” he said.
Someone question him why the City doesn’t use the taxpayers’ money currently used on the Olympic effort for investments in the parks.
FitzGerald responded that zero taxpayers’ money has been spent on the Olympic effort, as his salary is from BRA, which is a self-funded authority, and the City’s Office of Olympic Planning chief Sara Myerson’s salary is funded from a Boston 2024 grant. BRA staff members are public employees, and the agency is self-funded via public money, such as leases on land it owns.
He did not address the salaries of other City officials involved in the bid, such as Mayor Martin Walsh, or at that night’s meeting. Robert Rottenbucher, a Boston Parks and Recreation Department official, was at the table with FitzGerald for most of the two-hour meeting.
Richard Heath, founder of the Franklin Park Coalition, criticized the City for not being able to maintain Franklin Park without “private investment.” He said that his group told the City back in the 1972 how to properly take care of the park and that it did not listen.
“I can’t tell you how opposed I am to this,” said Heath.
Rottenbucher replied that he will go after “every single private dollar” for the City’s parks and that Franklin Park is in better shape now than it was in 1972 when people were burning cars there. He said he appreciates the work Heath has done for the park.
Rachel Miselman said she is “thrilled” that Franklin Park is planned to host Olympic events. She said she wants to hear more and that discussion should not be shut down.
Other attendees criticized the mayor for bringing such a divisive issue to the city and that security will be handled by the federal government, a subject of concern considering the protests across the country about how law enforcement treats communities of color.