Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Western Mass. could help Boston 2024's venue problem

By Zachary Baru

As venues become more and more of an issue for Boston 2024's Olympic bid, a sometimes forgotten resource may need to become a bigger part of the plan: Western Massachusetts.

Yes, remember Western Mass.?  That part of the state that exists far beyond the I-495 belt.  During a time when land for stadiums is becoming an issue, why not explore an area that has nothing but land?  Western Mass. has a tremendous amount of resources that extends far beyond that current plans of one lone venue, the Deerfield River.

The MassMutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Western Mass., with cities such as Springfield, Pittsfield and Holyoke - all of which have rich sports histories, and two of which have halls of fame - provide outstanding opportunities to host the Olympic games, in an area where traffic is currently not a problem.  Western Mass. may have an abundance of land for venues, but its biggest asset is the venues it currently has.

The MassMutual Center in Springfield is an 8,000-seat arena (6,663 seats with fixed seating) that was renovated in 2005 with the construction of an adjacent convention center.  Together, the arena and convention center offer a spectacular opportunity to host any type of event that should find its way to Springfield.  As for accessibility, the MassMutual Center is located off of Interstates 91 and 291 and minutes from Interstate 90.

The venue is also within walking distance of Union Station, which is currently under construction to become the Union Station Regional Intermodal Transportation Center in 2017.  This rail and bus terminal will be home to Amtrak, Peter Pan and Greyhound.  A combined 12 daily trains connect to cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.  Another daily train makes the trip to and from Boston.  As for buses, Springfield offers several trips to Boston, New York and Albany.

Still not sold on Western Mass.?  Another venue just up Interstate 91 in Amherst is the 10,500-seat Mullins Center (9,493seats for basketball), on the campus of the University of Massachusetts.  The Mullins Center was built in 1993 and has hosted a number of large concerts and NBA exhibition games, as well as UMass basketball and hockey games.  It should also be noted that the venue includes an adjacent ice rink that could be covered for practices and other use.  As for public transportation, Peter Pan offers several buses each day with connections to Boston and New York.  Amtrak provides service to Northampton, just one town away.

If venues are the issue, look no further than Western Mass. to help bring some additional options to the Boston 2024 Olympic bid.  The Deerfield River currently serves as the sole Western Mass. venue, which will be called upon to host canoe slalom events.  But with Springfield being the birthplace of basketball, and Holyoke being the birthplace of volleyball, it is only fitting that Western Mass. be called upon the Olympic stage, should the games ever become a reality.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at zachbaru@gmail.com.