District of Columbia Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser and representatives from Washington 2024 made their pitch for D.C. to host the 2024 Summer Olympics Tuesday, but one Capitol Hill neighborhood representative is raising concerns about the bid.
“D.C. residents should have a say in this because certainly we’re going to be paying for it. There’s no question about it,” Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven said in a Wednesday phone interview. Flahaven's district includes the southeast Capitol Hill neighborhood, which could be affected by the Olympic plan. Flahaven is particularly concerned about the lack of community engagement prior to the pitch made to the U.S. Olympic Committee Tuesday. Bowser traveled to Redwood City, Calif., along with Washington 2024 Chairman Russ Ramsey and Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Olympian Katie Ledecky, to present their case to the USOC for why D.C. should be chosen as the potential 2024 host city. D.C. is competing against Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco to be the city the United States pitches to the International Olympic Committee in 2017.
Flahaven said, “99.9 percent of D.C. residents don’t know what’s in the bid. From my perspective they need to share more details about the plan … I think they’re just trying to keep everything close to the vest because they’re concerned about people asking questions.”
In November, Flahaven invited Washington 2024 officials to have a community meeting to discuss plans for the Hill East area prior to the bid. The group responded to his request with a letter stating, "If we are selected, the public engagement process will start at the beginning of the year and will be ongoing."
But the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner is concerned that now that officials have made their pitch to USOC, it will be too late to alter the plan if D.C. is chosen. Washington 2024 disputes that claim.
Washington 2024 spokesperson Penny Lee said they have had conversations with Flahaven about meeting with the community, and hope to do so after the holidays. When asked why the group did not meet with the community prior to Tuesday's pitch, Lee said the pitch was not the final plan for the Olympic Games in D.C.
"I think it’s really important to remember what we were presenting to the USOC is not set in stone," Lee said in a Wednesday phone interview. "We went there with concepts and ideas and to show that the city does have the capability and the capacity to support these games.” She later added, “If we are to be the chosen city, the next phase would be to engage with the community.”
Lee emphasized that the group is committed to hearing from the D.C. community. "This is a process that will engage the community," she said, "and our priorities have always wanted to make sure that whatever we do we address any concerns that we hear.”
Bowser also said after the pitch that she would work with leaders from around the capital region to coordinate the games.
"Should the U.S. Olympic Committee select Washington, D.C., I am committed to working with regional leaders to develop a plan that will benefit residents and leave a positive, lasting impact on our city," Bowser said in a Tuesday statement.
Another concern, along with community engagement, is that the city will have to bear the brunt of the cost of the Olympics. The total cost for the London Summer Olympics in 2012 was more than $14 billion.
“I am concerned," said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson when asked about the potential cost at his Tuesday briefing. "And this is a discussion that a number of us in jurisdictions throughout the region have had with each other as well as with some of the business leaders ... The cost of the games has to be a partnership. The private sector has to step and also the cost has to be one that’s reasonable, that provides a net benefit.”
But the Washington 2024 board argues that if D.C. is chosen, the cost would be less than previous games, since the city already has a number of structures in place that could host events.
"We're very fortunate here in Washington that much of the infrastructure is already here," Rosie Allen-Herring, a Washington 2024 board member and president and CEO of United Way of the National Capital Area, said on Fox 5 Wednesday. Allen-Herring also noted that investments made for the games would have a lasting impact on the community.
But Flahaven is also concerned about the Olympic plan's effect on the Hill East redevelopment project for the area from the eastern edge of Capitol Hill to the western edge of the Anacostia River. The area is reportedly being considered as a potential site for an Olympic village.
Flahaven said an Olympic village in that area could postpone retail and affordable housing developments until after the Olympics concluded. He said city officials will argue that the Olympics will be the catalyst the site needs to boost development, though he disagrees.
"If they move forward on the development now, it certainly wouldn’t take 10 years to bring retail and affordable housing to that site," Flahaven said.
Lee countered that the group is considering a number of areas for the Olympic village. "We are looking at all available options right now for consideration,” she said.
For now, community members will have to wait and see if the USOC selects D.C. to be its bid city for the 2024 Olympics. According to a Tuesday statement, the USOC is expected to select its bid city in early 2015.
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