Photo by Graeme Pow on Flickr.

An organization called DC 2024 is trying to bring the Olympics to Washington. But the topic is quite controversial. Are the games worth the cost? We asked our contributors what they thought.

The International Olympic Committee will select the host city for the 2024 summer games in 2017. Only one American city will be nominated by the US Olympic Committee, and DC 2024 wants it to be Washington.

Hosting the games would be a prestigious event for the region, but it would also be a costly one.

Contributor Edward Russell was the most positive about the Olympics coming to DC. His thinking:

“A redeveloped RFK could contain the Olympic village. This would attract some decent architecture, like at City Center DC, for attractive high density residential on the sea of parking lots at RFK. I would expect no less than reconnecting the area to the city’s grid, and a better connection to the Anacostia River Trail.

Looking further afield, a DC Olympics would likely spur additional investments in the region’s transit system. This could include much of Metro’s Momentum plan, commuter rail improvements, and other bus and roadway improvements.

Will a DC Olympics cost money? For sure. Is this an unsolveable problem? No. The DC region is a rich area that can, by and large, afford an Olympics. Not one on the scale of Beijing, but it can afford one.

The Olympics is a worthwhile endeavour for the DC region to pursue and, I for one, think we could put on a heck of a games if given the opportunity.”

Dan Malouff quoted from a post he wrote last year saying,

“Hosting the Olympics in DC would be expensive, and a huge hassle, and probably wouldn’t result in much lasting benefit to the city, specifically.

But all the hate still breaks my heart. It’s the civic equivalent of when a school board cuts art & music programs and redirects their funding to standardized mathematics testing. On paper it’s the right decision, but it’s wrong if you want your students to grow up with anything to dream about using math to create.

Art, music, and Olympics are all luxuries, it’s true. But they’re luxuries that are good for the soul. They’re luxuries that make our civilization more than the sum of its parts. They’re things worth doing if we value love.

I love the Olympics, and notably, so do many of the haters, who are happy to watch them on TV when they’re hosted in someone else’s backyard. Don’t we have a term for that?”

A number of other contributors were happy to have the games provided certain conditions were met.

Christopher Matthews thinks it’s worth it for two reasons.

“If we got statehood and a new Metro line, I could suck it up (and leave town) for two weeks. Anything less than that, nope, no thanks.”

Bradley Heard is also interested in the prospect of a redeveloped RFK:

“[T]he development of an Olympic Village (and future dense, compact housing) on the RFK surface lots could spur the development of the Oklahoma Ave and River Terrace infill Metro stations, as well as the extension of the streetcar all the way to Benning Road Metro”

And Jim Titus is interested in environmental remediation:

“If making the Potomac River swimmable for some of the events is part of

the deal, then count me in.”

But not everyone is sold with the idea of hosting the games.

Matt Johnson thinks that DC doesn’t need the Olympics and that arguments about stadium re-use rarely pan out.

“If we were to use the Los Angeles (1984) model, it might have merit. But these days, the only way to win the Olympics is to spend outrageous sums of money to have the biggest, best, most frilly stadia in the history of the games. And most of these venues will not be used 8 times a year. They’ll be used once.

If we were in Europe, I might feel differently, because the Olympics do tend to generate significant amounts of federal investment. But in the United States, they do not.

Look at Atlanta, for example. Did the Olympics create any investment in the transportation network? Not really. Yes, a month before the games, the North Line (now the Red Line) opened. But that line had been in planning since 1986, 4 years before the games were awarded. And it didn’t actually link to any venues. The Olympic Stadium (now Turner Field) remained disconnected from the rail network, and now, less than 20 years after the games, is about to be torn down. And it likely would have been built anyway, because Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, formerly home of the Braves, turned 30 in 1996.

We don’t need the games for prestige, or even as a reason to spur us into action. If we want to do great things in this region, we should do them. We can do them. The Olympics won’t make it any easier to do them. And, in fact, by siphoning off money that might otherwise go to other projects, the Olympics might actually make it harder to do some of the things we desperately need to do.”

Miles Grant also thinks its a bad idea and doesn’t like the idea of partnering with a scandal plagued IOC,

“If improving public transportation and affordable housing are such a good ideas (and they are!), why don’t we just do that? Why do we have to shovel subsidies at the scandal-ravaged International Olympic Committee that rakes in millions while paying athletes literally nothing and looking the other way on discrimination? As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban put it, “The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money.”

Let’s invest in making DC greater for the people who live here, not for people who might visit for a week in 2024.”

Payton Chung reflected on his experience in Chicago and its bid:

“I lived through Olympics-mania in Chicago several years ago. Back then, I wrote that the Olympics were a prime example of the worst possible “project planning,” to use Roberta Brandes Gratz’s dismissive term. The academic literature surrounding sports investments show even more dire rates of return than for convention centers. That goes double for the Olympics, which require a large number of very specialized venues for esoteric events.

Chicago’s organizers sold to the public an expectation that the Olympics would somehow, magically solve the region’s transportation woes (even though the Bid Book ultimately said nothing of the sort, instead saying that private shuttle buses would move everyone about). Instead, as others have amply pointed out, the federal government does not do anything of the sort. Given the current anti-Washington sentiment nationally and the Highway Trust Fund’s bankruptcy, I doubt that a local Games would benefit from much federal funding.

If our region has to raise billions of dollars to invest in transit or housing or parks, we could easily raise it locally. After all, we live in one of the wealthiest regions of the country, and yet pay quite moderate taxes by international standards. If our region wants to build its international stature, we could invest in homegrown ideas and talent — rather than lavishing funds building palaces for a tarnished international franchise that demands a multi-billion-dollar tribute.”

Some of our contributors are stuck in the middle.

David Alpert:

“To me, this issue is about whether the city/region will get a good deal or let itself be fleeced. It reminds me of the basic economic principle known as the Winner’s Curse.

DC could put together a sensible, solid plan for an Olympic bid that has real, definite advantages and avoids overspending. It could submit that bid, confident that if it won, it would get a good deal, but also knowing that some city that’s less pragmatic would probably win out. But it’s unlikely to work this way. [are]spending taxpayer money. The people on the board of the Olympic bid committee aren’t bidding to pay for the Olympics and make profit; they’re trying to convince politicians to spend taxpayer money.

How about the business executives who are pushing for the Olympics get some skin in the game? How about, if the benefits to the region do not exceed the costs, ThinkFoodGroup, District Photo, Venturehouse Group, Carsquare, the Mystics, Kiswe, the Nats, Lerner Enterprise, Under Armour, Akin Gump, rand*, the Informer, and EY have to make up the difference by issuing debt or equity in their companies to pay back the taxpayers? Then we can be sure that, being sensible businesspeople, they will take care to not overbid. I’d be all for an Olympic bid in that case.”

Canaan Merchant

“I can’t definitively say whether it would ultimately turn out good or bad for DC but but it looks like an awfully high risk without a commensurately high reward.

What is risked:

  • A lot of money that could be spent on other things.
  • A huge chunk of land surrounding and including RFK stadium that could be put to almost any better use than what’s there currently.
  • DC area residents would bear a huge portion of security costs. Both monetarily and in terms of how it would impact our day to day lives.

Meanwhile the gains could be significant but at the moment we have no idea what those gains actually are. So the city is risking a lot without knowing what it is they stand to get in return

and Malcolm Kenton:

“My views are closest to Jim, Topher and Miles. I see the costs as outweighing the benefits, and a huge benefit (such as statehood, an even more concerted effort to clean up the Anacostia River, or a tremendous, lasting capital investment in transit) would have to be part of the package in order to earn my support.

Otherwise, while I sometimes enjoy the pageantry and athletic performances of the Olympics, I realize that it’s primarily about money. And it’s hard to feel national pride when I realize how un-level the playing field is for the most part between the world’s wealthiest countries and all the rest. The institution of the Olympics needs to be reformed to be fairer to all concerned, but I’m not sure exactly how that would be accomplished.”

It seems like there a lot of opinions about whether the Olympics in DC is a good or bad idea and what it would take for DC to have a successful games. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Reston.