The revised Boston 2024 Summer Olympic bid involves the complete transformation of two Boston neighborhoods – Columbia Point and Widett Circle. But some landowners still say they aren’t willing to sell.
South Boston’s Widett Circle is a ring-shaped road in South Boston, filled with low, warehouse-style buildings. Inside, workers process food.
“This is the place that feeds the city and the region,” says Michael Vaughan, spokesman for the business co-op in Widett Circle called the New Boston Food Market.
“Whether you buy a roast beef or a piece of chicken at Roche Brothers in West Roxbury or you go to dinner at Grill 23 or Legal Seafoods, more than likely it passed through the docks and the bays of New Boston Food Market,” he says.
Vaughan calls this plot of land “the front door to the city…” And Boston’s Olympic organizers agree—so much so that they’ve targeted the area for their use in 2024. Bid architect David Manfredi says “We’ve proposed a temporary stadium on a site that we’ve referred to as midtown, which is just a placeholder to give a name to a place that really has no identity today.”
No identity? Not so says Vaughan. Although the site is located in a nondescript bend in I93 and the MBTA rail yards, it actually thrives around 4 AM, when most people are asleep.
“For years people have crowed their necks and stared at that space as they sit in traffic on 93 or they go to get their car at the tow lot which is next to us,” Vaughan says. “And we’ve been sort of the victim of drive-by speculative development.”
Where Boston 2024 sees a location for an Olympic stadium, Vaughan sees an already thriving area.
“Our biggest frustration is consistently when anyone refers to the site as underdeveloped or underutilized,” says Vaughan. “We have 800 employees there, we have 20 businesses. We do a billion dollars a year in sales. We’ve grown 10% year-to-year the past 2 years.”
He says Widett Circle, owned cooperatively by the businesses within it, is NOT for sale or even considering moving. The city assesses its value at more than $20 million. So either Vaughan and his colleagues are holding out for the right price or they aren’t convinced yet the Olympics will happen.
Meanwhile, Boston 2024 sees Widett Circle, located near a port and major highways, as the ideal place to benefit from the creation of an Olympic stadium.
“A stadium at midtown would serve as a catalyst for a new neighborhood between South Boston and the South End,” says David Manfredi. “Connected by the Red Line, to both the waterfront and to downtown Boston, [there are] 4 thousand units of new housing including 500 affordable units, over 2 million square feet of office space, retail, restaurants and hotel and 15 acres of permanent, open space.”
It’s an attractive vision, and one that surprisingly doesn’t seem to bother Michael Vaughan.
“We’re beyond being angry,” he says. “I think we were frustrated at first. It was aggravating to pick up the paper and see these things. I think the mayor in particular has done a good job. Some people from 2024 have done a good job coming out, spending time on site and reassuring us that they were going to work with us. And we’ve had an agreement for the last 5 months or so that we were going to listen to one another and avoid surprises.”
Vaughan says Boston 2024 has a job to do – to convince the public and elected officials that its vision is worth considering. And for now, the workers in Widett Circle will keep doing their job – processing meat and fish in South Boston.