State hires Cambridge firm to analyze Olympic bid
Confronting highly charged questions about cost overruns and the risk to taxpayers, state officials said Monday that they have hired a Cambridge-based consulting firm to analyze the nearly $10 billion budget proposed by Boston Olympic organizers.
The Brattle Group, whose clients include corporations, law firms, and governments around the world, will issue its report in August, according to Governor Charlie Baker, who commissioned the study along with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg.
That will leave about a month for state officials and the public to review the report before the US Olympic Committee must send a letter to the International Olympic Committee confirming that Boston will bid for the 2024 Games, Baker said.
“That would give us what we’re looking for here, which is an independent, third-party, expert opinion on what would be expected of the Commonwealth here, which has been our concern all along,” the Republican governor told reporters at the State House.
Rosenberg, a Democrat, emphasized that the construction of Olympic venues and operation of the Games must be privately funded, in keeping with the promise made by Boston 2024, the local bid committee.
“We have been clear that we’re happy to help with infrastructure that we would build anyway,” he said. “The issue is operating subsidy, and closing any deficit.”
DeLeo, echoing the concerns of other state officials, said Boston 2024 has not provided enough detail about its budget since it first released its plan for the Games in January.
“I’m very hopeful that, with the consultant we have coming on, some of the financing questions can come to fruition,” the speaker, also a Democrat, said.
The Brattle Group will be paid up to $250,000 for its analysis, which is expected to examine the economic impact of the Olympics, funding sources, insurance requirements, infrastructure costs, and responsibilities that the state would face, if Boston were to host the 2024 Summer Games.
Selection of the firm is about a month behind schedule. Baker, DeLeo, and Rosenberg first announced that they would conduct such a study in March, and were scheduled to hire a firm to perform the work in early May.
Baker did not explain the delay, but said the Brattle Group was the unanimous choice of all three Beacon Hill leaders because it has a wealth of accountants, economists, and other “numbers geeks — which I consider to be a compliment.”
The Brattle Group, according to its contract with the state, will be advised by two sports economists, Brad Humphreys and Allen Sanderson, both of whom have been critical of the purported benefits of the Olympics.
Sanderson’s research, for example, has shown no difference in economic gain between cities that hosted the Games, such as Atlanta, and similar cities in the region, such as Charlotte, that have not.
Humphreys, too, has questioned the economic value of the Olympics.
“The economic impact of hosting the Olympic Games is always overstated by the organizers,” Humphreys told the Globe and Mail of Canada in 2009. “There is little evidence that hosting the games has any positive tangible economic impact, except to the extent that new infrastructure (roads and transport, not venues) is put in place.”
Boston 2024 reiterated in a statement Monday that it is planning to unveil a revised version of its bid by June 30. That plan is expected to include more detailed financial information.
“We welcome the decision to bring on an independent expert to advise state leadership on this effort and pledge to work closely with the Brattle Group as we move from proof of concept to a detailed plan,” said Erin Murphy, chief operating officer of Boston 2024. “Input from state and local leaders as well as our ongoing community engagement process is helping shape the next phase of our plans and bringing us much closer to a preliminary Games concept that reflects the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020 and the city’s 2030 planning.”
No Boston Olympics, an opposition group, issued a statement saying it looks forward to sharing its own analysis of the bid with the Brattle Group.
“Governor Baker, Senate President Rosenberg, and Speaker DeLeo understand that Boston 2024’s plans could expose taxpayers to immense financial risk,” the group said. “The Brattle Group has demonstrated experience helping assess value, risk, and cost.”
Olympic organizers have said the cost of building venues and running the Games would be paid for by private sources, through ticket sales, sponsorships, and media rights. The chief cost to taxpayers, they say, would be the $1 billion bill for security, which would be paid for by the federal government.
Critics have said the budget does not include enough revenue to cover expenses and have argued that local and state taxpayers will inevitably be called upon to cover additional costs.
Those concerns were amplified by the revelation last week that Boston 2024 had told the USOC that it could use public financing to fund land and infrastructure costs for the Olympic stadium in South Boston. The proposal came to light through a public records request by the Boston Business Journal and Boston Magazine.
Boston 2024 leaders then backed away from that plan but left open the use of public financing for Olympic-related infrastructure.