Housing Complex

Five Reasons Not to Love D.C.’s Olympic Bid


If you thought the Nationals Park and D.C. United stadium deals were bad, just wait'll you see what the Olympics would mean for the city.

The nonprofit DC 2024, led by the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, announced this morning that it's making a push to bring the Summer Olympics to the capital region in 2024. The city already has a case of stadium fatigue from the city-funded Nationals Park and the recent deal to build a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. We don't yet know exactly what hosting the Olympics would entail, but there are plenty of reasons to be wary. My boss Mike Madden already outlined a few of them; here are five more:

1. Nationals Park cost about $700 million to build. For the D.C. United stadium, the city expects to contribute about $150 million, through land swaps and infrastructure development. The Olympics, by comparison, are expected to cost between $4 billion and $6 billion.

2. Say what you will about the wisdom of the Nationals Park arrangement, but the stadium has undeniably given a boost to the surrounding Capitol Riverfront neighborhood. Likewise, the D.C. United stadium should spur development at Buzzard Point. The Olympics would certainly bring some economic gains, but studies have found the games to be an overall money loser.

3. U.S. Olympics Committee CEO Scott Blackmun wrote a letter to the mayors of 35 cities earlier this year outlining the requirements for a host city. These include 45,000 hotel rooms, housing for 16,500 athletes, workspace for 15,000 journalists, and extensive public transportation infrastructure. We're having enough trouble just keeping our five-line Metro system running. Good luck with this.

4. Goodbye, Hill East development. Bob Sweeney, president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, says, "I think it would be naive not to think that [RFK Stadium] would be part of the dialogue." Cynical residents of the Hill East neighborhood have long suspected that the redevelopment of Reservation 13/Hill East has been put on hold because the city secretly wants to bring the Washington football team back to RFK. If the stadium suddenly becomes part of an Olympic bid, we're unlikely to see mixed-use development of the neighboring property anytime soon.

5. Other than potentially a new football stadium, it's not clear that we really need additional sports facilities in D.C. Our basketball, hockey, and baseball teams already play in the heart of the city; our soccer team will soon join them. Do we really need a new velodrome? Much of what the Olympics would bring would likely be temporary—raising the question of whether it justifies the construction, the traffic, the headaches, and, of course, the cost.

Image from dc2024.com

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    I wouldn't presume that this would mean the end for Hill East as a mixed use development - look at at the large amounts of mixed use development around London's Olympic Park:


    Now, that doesn't mean it's a wise development strategy, but it's certainly not a mutually exclusive outcome.

  • Thomas

    This entire discussion is ridiculous. We're not going to get the Olympics despite what some delusional group or guy thinks.

  • smoke11

    DC is already a top tourist destination. It doesn't need the help.

  • JW

    Not that I expect us to get the Olympics, or even make a serious attempt, but this is not a good list of reasons why.

    1. Not really sure what the point of that comparison was. The better comparison would be to the city budget, which is $12.2 billion for 2014. Given that the costs would be spread out over a number of years, would be partly paid for by the feds, and would result in some usable infrastructure, it wouldn't bankrupt us. Might not be the best idea, but not impossible.

    2. I'm not sure what the point of this point was.

    3. Of the requirements you listed, the only ones the city would actually need to new-build are the housing. Which leads me to my response to point 4:

    4. You could make Hill East/RFK the Olympic Village. Build your big new mixed-use developments there, house the athletes and journalists there. The new Olympic Stadium, designed to be able to shrink afterwards to football dimensions, could be in PG County again, as FedEx's replacement.

    5. Most of the sports facilities wouldn't be new-build, they would be renovations of facilities in the city and its surrounding suburbs. And really, who cares whether or not the velodrome will be temporary or not?

    There are strong arguments both ways (probably stronger against than for), but this article really didn't hit them.

  • David C

    [Nationals Park] has undeniably given a boost to the surrounding Capitol Riverfront neighborhood.

    I'll deny it. Do you have some proof - other than the undeniability of it?

  • Reelserious

    penny wise. pound foolish. the infrastructure improvements in Atlanta were terrific and did wonders for several entities there. infrastructure almost always pays big dividends though it generally lacks political will since the immediate benefactors are a narrow constituency. Usually WCP, as an institution, avoids knee jerk reactions typical of a NIMBY but I guess the paper has taken on impressions of one its editors that has the mindset of, "sport subsidies for the 1% BAD!" - MM. Generally that may be true, but in this instance, the leftovers from an Olympics would be worth 30 years of accelerated infrastructure that would not have happened at such a pace (and the resulting economic activity) had not the political will (impending Olympics) been there. Pull back and think this through as a long term proposition, as WCP is an important voice.

  • David C

    Reelserious. What we need is the political will to do infrastructure without a giant party to motivate us. That actually isn't such a heavy lift. We've done great things before.

  • Mike Madden

    @ Reelserious:

    I'm all for the investments in infrastructure you favor. Just think how much more cost-effective they'd be without also making a massive expenditure to benefit the IOC and sponsors like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and General Electric, none of whom need a handout from D.C. taxpayers.

  • Reelserious

    as a member of the Fourth estate, I understand and appreciate your commitment to an ideal situation, infrastructure spending that is not directed in a way to provide a subsidy to the Olympics. Pragmatically, that is no longer how the U.S works, especially in this instance given the unique relationship between D.C. and the federal government. It will never be good politics to direct massive infrastructure spending to the gilded capital. Never. Infrastructure will never be in style they way it was in the 20th century. The region needs to seize this opportunity in order to sustain its spot as a hotbed of economic activity for the long term horizon.

  • michaeliceman


    Good points but your item 4 kind of guts it. That mixed use development needs to be built sooner rather than later. Under your plan, the earliest it could be done is 2022 and real residents could not live there until after the Games.

  • Will

    Aaron, the Velodrome and seating would easily fit inside the DC Armory (temporarily), the 10k swim could be held in a (by-then) swimable Anacostia & Potomac, and they could put the Natatorium on Haines Point as that pool is certainly due for replacement - who needs the golf course!

    I've certainly got my narrow interest in world-class sports venues in mind, but I say we go for it, and get the feds to pay for most of it... Lord knows we don't have enough coin to finance this ourselves.

  • double income no money

    David C: if we concede your point about the party, certain facilities will NEVER get built without Olympic motivation. A world class natatorium, for example, which will come in handy for other national swimming events.
    Much as I hate to admit it, the games will provide immense improvements that otherwise won't happen.

  • D

    I know it's your job to be skeptical, but this analysis is dismissive and very one-sided. Some of the commenters have already presented some good counterpoints, but before we start trying to develop a narrative on this as incredibly bad (or good), let's get some details first.

    David C, what's wrong with a giant party and massive infrastructure investments? Londoners are glad they gave it go.

  • http://tsarchitect.nsflanagan.net/ цarьchitect

    D, are they glad? Most responses from locals seem kind of bitter about it.

  • David C

    D, opportunity cost.

  • Hillman

    It's hard to quantify the impact Nats Stadium had on the area.

    But one thing is for certain - the crappy housing complexes and liquor stores that the city eminent domained would probably still be there if it weren't for the stadium.

    The stadium gave the city the political cover to get rid of these long-standing detriments to the neighborhood.

    Would the area have developed eventually? Maybe.

    But it likely wouldn't include much housing, as the only draw would have been defense contractors needing to be close to the Navy Yard.

    And as long as the public housing was there you'd have very little retail.

    Developers banked on the stadium being there, even years before it was a done deal.

    Can you quantify that? Probably not.

  • Logan Res

    Sounds like a great way to get the separated blue and yellow metro lines as well as the entire streetcar network built (in our lifetime!) So what if the city and Feds prioritize some funding for infrastucture to support the Olympics? Who cares? Regardless if we win the Olympics bid or not, they'll still squander the money on other worthless projects that will never benefit our transportation and infrastucture.

  • ShawGuy

    I do think it has the potential to sever the blue and orange lines west of Metro Center (which would be wonderful) and bring a lot of other infrastructure work to DC at a much faster clip than we will likely see otherwise.

    Also, I remember from the Atlanta Games that Emory University partnered with the city to build and then use a lot of the Olympic Village as student housing. I'm pretty sure one of the many, many, many schools in DC would be happy to work out a similar arrangement, which does cut down a lot of costs.

  • AnotherHillGuy

    What makes anyone think that the infrastructure improvements designed to move a large number of tourists between specific venue sites will help the residents? Given the multiple regional locations, it is more likely we will see investments in rail (light and heavy) between DC and Baltimore and DC and Annapolis rather than an extension of the streetcar system to east of the river. Unless, of course, they put the Olympic Stadium at St. E's.

  • Shaw

    @AnotherHillGuy - but almost all of the city's hotels and tourist destinations are right in the vicinity of the proposed separate blue and yellow lines. I don't think the Roslyn station could handle the amount of traffic from three lines passing through that station during any sort of large event in the region. I'm confident most attendees would prefer to stay in the city and see the sites as well as the games rather than stay way out in a suburban county. The Mark and VRE train lines could be upgraded to get people to a regional sports facility in the burbs.

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