They call themselves Brattlers, and Charlie Baker says their report must go on.
But with our bid dead, the Cambridge consultants hired by the state to vet the Boston 2024 plan just went from being pivotal in the governor’s decision on the Olympics to being irrelevant.
So how does it feel?
Actually, the economists and eggheads who work at Brattle Group are used to this. They’re often hired to provide expert testimony in complex litigation, and sometimes the cases get settled before they finish their analysis.
But the leaders of the firm still think their study — which will cost the state as much as $250,000 — will be worth the money.
“This report will still be useful,” said Mark Sarro, a principal and a director at Brattle Group. “There are questions Boston faces whether or not we host the Olympics.”
He’s right. Baker, along with House Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg, hired the firm in June to conduct an independent analysis of the economic impact of the Olympics and what taxpayers might be on the hook for.
In particular, the group is expected to take a deep dive into transportation upgrades that would have been necessary to host the 2024 Summer Games, and presumably would review whether tax breaks would have been needed to entice developers to transform Widett Circle, where a temporary stadium and new neighborhood were to be built.
In theory, all of this work can be used by Boston and state officials to better understand the region’s infrastructure needs and development potential.
Brattle Group appears to be wrapping up its review — a draft is floating around — and remains on track to deliver a report in August.
Now, Sarro isn’t working on the much-hyped Olympic review, nor were the other Brattlers I interviewed. The Olympic Brattlers seemed to be under a gag order.
Still, I got a chance to visit the firm’s Harvard Square office Tuesday — yes, on Brattle Street, just above City Sports — after I wanted to learn more about consultants most people have never heard of. Obviously, this meeting was in the works before the Boston bid imploded.
You see, up until two days ago the fate of the local Olympics rested on the findings of the 300-person company filled with PhDs and MBAs. Everyone was hoping that Baker, who had taken a neutral stance on the Games, would finally show his hand after digesting Brattle’s spreadsheets.
Gary Taylor, one of the Brattle Group founders, sounded a bit wistful — as wistful as an MIT-trained consultant can sound — about not having an outsized role in the governor’s decision on the Games.
“We hoped we would be contributing to get to a solution,” Taylor said.
While it is the first Olympics analysis in the firm’s 25-year history, this kind of report is its bread and butter. The group isn’t called in to craft recommendations, but rather to provide data-driven, objective analyses that would allow decision makers to reach the best possible business, policy, or legal outcome.
Brattle consultants relish dissecting high-stakes, complex issues — and under adversarial conditions. In other words, they’re used to their work being probed by those on opposite sides of an issue.
“When there is a lot on the line, that’s when we tend to get the call,” Sarro said.
For example, the attorney general’s office has hired Brattle over the years to do energy analyses, including the cost-effectiveness of Cape Wind, the controversial offshore wind farm in the works for Nantucket Sound.
Ian Bowles, the energy and environmental affairs secretary under governor Deval Patrick, came across Brattle’s analyses when Cape Wind was under review. He summed up the group’s style as “heavy wonkery.”
Brattlers acknowledge that their work gets into the weeds, relying more on fine-print spreadsheets than glossy PowerPoints. Their reviews are rigorous to withstand outside scrutiny.
Perhaps that’s why our Wonk in Chief glommed onto the Brattle Group. Baker insisted on waiting until the firm finished its work before weighing in on the Boston 2024 plan. That gave him an excuse to stay quiet even as the United States Olympic Committee pressed him and Mayor Marty Walsh to commit to the unpopular Games now.
Walsh refused, and, with Baker in self-imposed limbo, the Boston 2024 bid died.
In that, Brattle Group played a key role, even before a word of its report was released.