Mass games could fast track rail project

Photo Credit: Mike Valeri / The Standard-Times
Photo Credit: Mike Valeri / The Standard-Times

By Mike Lawrence
Posted Jan. 10, 2015 @ 2:01 am
NEW BEDFORD — Olympic dreams were soaring like seagulls Friday as SouthCoast economic leaders and lawmakers speculated on what a 2024 Summer Games in Boston could mean for the city and the region, should Boston beat out international competitors and host the world.
Faster completion of the South Coast Rail project; Olympic sailing in Buzzards Bay; an influx of tourism in greater New Bedford; housing for athletes and support staff at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; and even rowing competitions in South Watuppa Pond, which straddles Fall River and Westport, all were floated following Boston’s selection by the U.S. Olympic Committee late Thursday.
Rob Mellion, president and CEO of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he spent Friday morning exchanging emails with John Fish, chairman of the Boston 2024 Olympic campaign.
“They can’t get the Olympic Games without South Coast Rail,” Mellion said. “This could be the thing that would get South Coast Rail in place, because you could get federal money — it could fast-track South Coast Rail.”
Mellion, a former Idaho resident, said he was appointed by that state as a coordinator for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
“A city in and of itself cannot produce an Olympic Games,” he said. ”It’s a regional effort …It’s physically not possible for Boston to have a Games just in the inner circle of Boston.”
Mellion said the Fall River Chamber hopes to build a coalition of business organizations to raise regional and statewide awareness about potential benefits of a Boston Olympics.
Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, had similar thoughts.
“Given (Thursday’s) news, I think we need to go from paying attention to seeing how we can actively participate in helping Boston’s plans,” Santos said. “Perhaps the best thing is setting up a local committee to understand the best way to do that.”
Santos said the 2024 Games could bring New Bedford “tremendous opportunities not just in overflow tourism … but also in hosting venues for sailing” in Buzzards Bay.
“I think whenever you bring an event to a city, even as large as Boston, the impacts … certainly can be felt within 55 miles,” he added.
State Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, said caution will be needed as Hub politicians seek to open the state’s wallet.
“The ghost of the Big Dig lives on,” he said. “I want to make sure the taxpayers I represent aren’t impacted in any way by the big dreams of the capital city … The private sector and the project itself need to pay for the staging of the Olympics. ”
But a Boston Games also could present huge tourism opportunities, he said.
“Those of us who don’t represent Boston will be very aggressively pushing the spillover benefits to our regions,” Montigny said. “There are very few places in the entire New England region as accessible, as beautiful and as reasonable as greater New Bedford … We stand to benefit, and we’ll market the hell out of it.”
Mellion, a former rower in the U.S. national team system, spoke about bringing his sport to SouthCoast.
“The Charles River can’t be used for rowing because it’s a flowing water mass — the water facility has to be in a lake,” Mellion said. “The South Watuppa would be the perfect venue for rowing and kayaking.”
Nine years ahead of a potential Games, competition already has begun — Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty said Friday that Lake Quinsigamond would be a great Olympic rowing venue, according to the Worcester Telegram.
Erin Murphy, executive vice president of Boston 2024, said the group would continue discussions with Massachusetts communities in coming months.
“We look forward to continuing our outreach to communities across the state to share preliminary plans, get input and ideas, and invite cities and towns to express interest in hosting either competitions or preliminaries,” Murphy said.
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