Boston city councilors on Friday pressed members of the local Olympic bid group, Boston 2024, for details on their private financing plans for the Games and the potential financial risk to the city, while urging the bid team to work with Olympics opponents to improve the plans.
Councilors avoided making emphatic statements for or against hosting the Games during the four-hour hearing in City Hall. The council will hold additional hearings on specific aspects of the bid, said council president Bill Linehan.
Several councilors urged the bid team to proceed with the greatest possible transparency. Councilor Matt O’Malley punctuated the point by attributing some of the public cynicism around the bid to the lack of a widespread public debate before Boston 2024 submitted its early plans to the US Olympic Committee late last year.
The USOC in January chose Boston to represent the nation in a worldwide competition for the 2024 Summer Games.
Speaking for the bid team, John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024, and Rich Davey, chief executive of the organization, painted the bid as an opportunity for intense planning for Boston’s future ahead of the city’s 400th anniversary in 2030.
Promising no city money would be used to build or operate the Games, the bid team outlined their plans to fund their $9 billion proposal.
A $4.7 billion Olympic operating budget would come largely from corporate sponsorships, broadcast fees, and ticket sales. Another $3.4 billion in construction costs, under the plan, would be borne by private developers who would build Olympic facilities, lease them to Boston 2024 for use during the Games, and then operate them afterward as commercial ventures.
The federal government would be expected to pick up $1 billion or more in security costs. It would not be feasible for any US city to host the Games unless the federal government agreed to handle security, the Boston 2024 officials said.
City Councilor Josh Zakim, who has proposed putting Boston’s bid to a citywide vote, directly asked the bid team members for their position on a referendum.
Fish replied that citizens are within their rights to seek a referendum and “we have no issue with that whatsoever.”
The Boston 2024 representatives acknowledged to councilors that the public has raised concerns about plans to hold beach volleyball in a temporary facility on Boston Common. Critics do not like the notion of a sizable portion of the Common being unavailable to the public during the construction of the venue and during the Games. They also fear the Common could be damaged.
While not yet abandoning the plan for the Common, the bid team is exploring options for alternative sites.
Councilor Charles Yancey said he saw the Olympic torch relay in 1984, and like many sports fans he has “certain romantic images of the Olympics.” But he sharply questioned why the council and the city should spend time and effort discussing the Games, when the city has other priorities.
Davey said he has “a lot of faith in this body that you can do multiple things.”
Chris Dempsey, representing the citizen group No Boston Olympics, claimed to councilors that Boston 2024 officials overstate the benefits of hosting the Olympics while understating the risks.
Among the risks, he said, is that the International Olympic Committee would expect the host city to guarantee that the Games will be delivered as promised and to make up any shortfalls in the Olympic operating budget.
“As it stands, the City of Boston — that is, city taxpayers — will be required to write a blank check to the IOC,” he said. “A plan that uses a financial backstop from taxpayers is not a private financing model.”
Boston 2024 has said it will buy private insurance to indemnify the city, as Chicago did in its ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Games.
The IOC in 2017 will choose the host of the 2024 Olympics. Rome is expected to make a bid. Paris, Berlin, and Budapest may also enter the race.