Castle Island can tend to be one of Boston more underappreciated gems.
It’s a spot where locals can escape the grind of the city life, and find themselves wrapped in a South Boston environment of seaside tranquility and history flanked by Fort Independence. As a Boston destination, it’s an anomaly, thanks to the free parking, and its notable past can make its visitors dream of the future, even as they clog their arteries with a double cheeseburger – “all around” – from the Castle Island institution, Sullivan’s.
It’s where former Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn happened to be last week, when he dreamed of such ideals – hold the cholesterol – and how they pertained to his city’s future, in particular Boston’s controversial pursuit of the 2024 Olympic Games.
“This would be an ideal location,” Flynn told Boston.com. “Boston would be an ideal location for the world Olympics. It teaches lasting lessons. Its traditions and history remains forever and that’s Boston to a T.”
Flynn doesn’t speak in dollars and logistics when discussing Boston’s bid for the Games, a luxury not afforded to current Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who was initially noncommittal about welcoming the world in 2024, has seemingly come around on the prospect for a Boston Olympics. “If we got chosen as an Olympic site? I think it would be a tremendous opportunity for the city of Boston in so many different ways.” Walsh told the Globe in an interview last week.
Many Bostonians would tend to disagree.
Flynn, who served as Boston’s mayor from 1984-93, isn’t one of them.
“[Boston]’s rooted in history,” he said. “It’s rooted in values. It’s rooted in tradition, all of those things that are emblematic of the Olympics.”
Flynn has watched the Olympics from afar for most of his life. An All-American basketball player at Providence College in the 60’s, Flynn, 75, had visions of making the Games in Tokyo himself in 1964. “That was a great team they had there and I didn’t quite make it,” he said. That team won the gold medal behind players like Jerry Shipp, Bill Bradley, Jim Barnes, and Larry Brown. While at Providence, Flynn helped the Friars capture a pair of NIT titles, and recorded 1,025 points in only three seasons, ranking him among the school’s top 50 scorers all time.
Flynn’s stint as mayor came at that tail end of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau’s second bout in office, a period during which Drapeau watched the 1976 Olympics unravel into a budgetary nightmare. Montreal is only one of the many cities that Boston Olympic naysayers point to when arguing against the dedication of public and private funds for improvements in infrastructure to lure the Games here. Most infamously is Olympic Stadium, former home to the Montreal Expos, which ended up costing some $770 million to construct. By 2006, the final cost has risen to $1.47 billion when factoring in repairs, modifications, and interest. It took taxpayers 30 years to pay off the cost. “The Big Owe,” indeed. And yet since Les Expos left in 2004, the stadium remains mostly quiet.
But while Flynn acknowledges the enormous tax burden the Games had on Montreal citizens, he also chooses to recall the way the Sydney Games in 2000 looked on TV, with its glittering harbor and Opera House, images he feels could be duplicated in Boston.
“That is the strength of Boston, letting the world see what we already know,” he said. “There’s the visual of television, looking out at the Boson Harbor and its unique immigrant population, people coming from all over the world, coming from where they live now, whether its Greece or Oreland or Africa, wherever it is., the great athletes come in and their fans coming to Boston they would see what we already know, and really It’s rooted in that ethnic tradition and heritage.”
In order to pull it off, Flynn said that it would take the right mix of people leading the charge, Bostonians who had an understanding of both sports and the history of the city. “It takes unique people to be able to plan such an extraordinary event.,” he said. “That will be the key to it, but I’m sure that Marty Walsh will put those key people together.
It would also costs billions of dollars, an estimated $4.5 billion in private funds, according to lawmakers who were briefed on the topic last week by 2024 organizers. However, that figure doesn’t include the cost of public infrastructure, including road, bridge, and MBTA improvements that the Olympics would require, a price tag that would easily skyrocket into the billions, if not tens of billions.
“As long as there’s proper planning and the businesses weigh in,” Flynn said. “It’s got to be done professionally.”
Can Boston handle that though? All you have to understand is that the Big Dig was slated to cost $2.5 billion upon approval in 1982. It ended up costing about 10 times that amount. There’s little that can ease the nerves of the Boston Olympic opponents in fearing that the city is staring at a similar fate by welcoming Olympus. Flynn said that he understands that resistance, noting that many of his neighbors in South Boston have grown disgusted with the amount of overdevelopment that Hub has undergone over the past decade.
But to folks like Flynn, who said he has read about 20 books about the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and the cultural impact those Games had on society, it’s a pursuit worth maintaining aside from the inherent costs. The Olympic Games would offer an opportunity to showcase Boston like never before, welcoming the world to its doorstep not only for 16 days in August, but beyond as well, billing itself as one of the world’s most historical and important destinations.
“We’d see the great Kenyan runners” Flynn said. We’d see the great rowers of Australia, the great cross-country runners from Ireland, We’d see all that tradition right here which we’ve [already] experienced, in Boston at our colleges and universities.
“It’s all right here, waiting for the world to see it.”