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Boston 2024 chairman: Olympics could be ‘transformative’ for city

Boston 2024 Partnership Chairman John Fish on Wednesday morning outlined why he believes hosting the Olympic Games could be the most transformative experience in the city’s history.

Fish, who is the CEO and chairman of Suffolk Construction Company, was the keynote speaker at the latest installment of Northeastern’s CEO Breakfast Forum. During his talk, he offered four key reasons for this Olympics vision: It would provide a catalyst for change in the city; improve the city’s social and economic value; showcase Boston on the global stage; and unite Bostonians and Americans with pride and patriotism.

Boston’s bid for the games, Fish noted, “forces us to have a conversation about our future, about where we want to be in 2030, in 2040, and beyond,” particularly on issues such as housing, job creation, and transportation. He underscored that conversations on topics like the need for a long-term, cross regional transportation strategy will benefit the city and the region regardless of whether Boston is ultimately selected through an International Olympic Committee decision slated for 2017.

Fish offered examples to show why history supports Boston’s bid. He noted that not only has London seen record tourism and impressive GDP growth since hosting the Summer Games in 2012, but also that the past three Olympic Games hosted by U.S. cities—Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City—were cash-positive and run through public-private partnerships. What’s more, he pointed to a recent Boston Foundation analysis that found a Boston Olympics would have a net positive economic effect by creating more than 24,000 jobs and a $4 billion economic impact in the six years prior to the games and another 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in economic impact during the games.

Another strength of Boston’s bid, Fish said, is that it calls for utilizing a vast number of existing and iconic facilities, particularly on many college campuses, to host events. This approach aligns with the International Olympics Committee’s 2020 Olympic Agenda, which includes greater sustainability and legacy planning in cities’ future bids.

There’s also the emotional connection. “The Olympic movement is about hearts, not just minds and wallets,” Fish said. “It’s magical. It’s an emotional feeling, and we can’t as Americans just put a price tag on it. We want the Olympic dreams to live here because sport can instill pride in all of us.”

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, right, greets John Fish, chairman of the Boston 2024 Partnership, at the CEO Breakfast Forum on Wednesday. Fish, who is the chairman and CEO of Suffolk Construction, was the keynote speaker at the event. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, right, greets John Fish, chairman of the Boston 2024 Partnership, at the CEO Breakfast Forum on Wednesday. Fish, who is the chairman and CEO of Suffolk Construction, was the keynote speaker at the event. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun hosts the CEO Breakfast series, in which leading CEOs share their expertise with audiences of other CEOs and senior executives from the Greater Boston area. Under Fish’s vision and leadership, Suffolk has grown into one of the leading privately held general building contractors in the country.

Fish is also the chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, vice chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and the founding member and former chair of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership. Boston Magazine ranked him No. 1 on its 2012 “50 Most Powerful People in Boston” list; featured him in its “25 Most Influential People in Boston Philanthropy” list in 2013; and included him on its list of “75 Bold Thinkers who are Shaping Our City (and the World)” in 2014. The Boston Business Journal has also recognized him as “Most Admired CEO” and included him on the publication’s POWER 50 List in 2014.

In his remarks, Aoun noted that he was living in Los Angeles during the 1984 Summer Games and witnessed firsthand how the Olympics can have a transformative effect on the host city. He added that Wednesday’s CEO Breakfast Forum offered an important opportunity to continue the healthy public debate on Boston’s Olympic bid. “This is an exercise in democracy,” he said, “and that’s why I welcome this forum today.”

Public debate has ramped up since January when Boston was selected as the U.S. bid city for the 2024 Summer Games. WBUR polling has found that Boston residents’ support for the city’s Olympic bid has decreased sharply since that time, with 36 percent backing the idea in March compared to 51 percent in January.

The Boston 2024 leadership group has proposed a statewide referendum in 2016 on the bid, noting that the bid would be dropped if it’s rejected by the majority of Massachusetts residents—and even if it’s endorsed statewide but rejected by the majority of Boston residents.

In his talk, Fish underscored the importance of listening to Bay Staters’ thoughts and concerns about the bid during a series of scheduled public hearings. He acknowledged that Boston 2024 hasn’t had all the answers to the public’s questions since Boston was named the U.S. bid city, which has made the dialogue “a little challenged.”

“If we want to continue these conversations in a thoughtful way,” Fish said during a Q&A following his talk, “we want to listen to people’s concerns and be responsive to people’s concerns. At the end of the day, we need to ensure that Boston and the commonwealth want the athletes to come here and compete.”

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