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First Boston 2024 pitch took rosy view of pitfalls

An image released as part of a revised Olympics bid shows the envisioned site for a stadium at Widett Circle.
An image released as part of a revised Olympics bid shows the envisioned site for a stadium at Widett Circle.BOSTON 2024

Boston Olympic organizers, in their winning pitch to the US Olympic Committee in December, strongly downplayed the likelihood of a referendum on the Games and characterized the opposition as a small band of doubters relying on little more than social media, according to the document, which was released Friday.

The complete version of Boston 2024’s initial bid, released by the group, reveals several sections that had been hidden from the public for months, including information about venue costs, fund-raising strategies, and roadblocks the group might face.

“Four local activists formed a group in opposition to our bid, and while we respect their differing views and their right to promote them, our polling data shows that they do not represent the majority of public opinion,” Boston 2024 wrote. “No elected official has publicly endorsed the group, they have not received significant financial backing and their efforts have been limited to social media.”

The documents shows that information both substantial and seemingly trivial had been cut from the public version of the bid that was released in January.

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The disclosures once again shifted attention back to the bid committee’s troubled start and revived complaints about its commitment to transparency, even as the group’s new chairman tries to refocus the debate on a revised bid released in late June and what he says are the substantial benefits of hosting the Games.

One of the redacted sections from the initial bid sought to assure the USOC that it would be exceedingly difficult for critics to launch a ballot campaign to block the bid.

Boston 2024 officials told the USOC that it would cost “in excess of a million dollars” to launch a ballot initiative and that “opponents to an initiative petition have multiple opportunities to object and intervene throughout the process at every step, including through reviewing signatures for proper certification.”

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“Although technically possible to have a ballot initiative in 2016, given the onerous process, any initiative petition advanced by opponents to Boston 2024 would likely not appear on the ballot before November 2018,” Boston Olympic organizers wrote.

That was a miscalculation.

Months after making that argument, Boston 2024 bowed to the mounting pressure for a vote and agreed to propose its own referendum for the November 2016 ballot.

In the unredacted bid documents released Friday, Boston 2024 also told the USOC that it did not believe that the opposition group No Boston Olympics was formidable, a second error in judgment.

At the time, polls did indicate that a majority of residents supported the Games. Since then, the tide has shifted, and most residents now oppose the bid.

No Boston Olympics has also become a prominent voice in the debate, sparring on stage with bid leaders in a televised debate on Thursday night.

The full bid documents also show that Boston 2024’s original plan contained a $4.7 billion operating budget that was short about $471 million, with only $4.2 billion in revenue accounted for.

The committee’s new budget, released in June, identified $4.8 billion in revenue and projects a surplus.

Some of the changes that Boston 2024 made were minor, and seemingly done for public relations.

In its original bid submitted to the USOC, the group said it would seek to reduce the “substantial risks” that the city of Boston would face if it signed a taxpayer guarantee for the Games.

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But when the bid was released to the public in January, the word “substantial” was removed.

No Boston Olympics issued a statement on Friday blasting bid leaders for withholding the information.

“The release of Boston 2024’s unredacted bid documents confirm that the boosters have been saying one thing behind closed doors, and an entirely different thing to Massachusetts taxpayers,” the group said. “The redactions made in January show that the documents were whitewashed to remove any mention of existing opposition to the bid, and to conceal budget estimates that indicated the Games may operate at a deficit.”

Friday’s revelations also did not sit well with state Representative Bill Straus, cochairman of the Legislature’s transportation committee, who has previously pressed the bid committee for details about the transit projects associated with the plan.

“The long delayed release by Boston 2024 of the actual unedited bid documents today reveals that the local group has engaged in a cynical effort to keep the public and local officials out of the loop in terms of learning the finances and details of the mega project,” Straus said in a statement.

Boston 2024’s chairman, Steve Pagliuca, who took over in May, after the initial bid was submitted to the USOC, said the document was intended only to show that Boston was capable of staging the Games.

“The preliminary bid book was intended to serve as a ‘proof of concept’ — a general demonstration that Boston can, in fact, serve as host city,” he said in a statement. “While it served that purpose well, it was not meant to be a final or operable plan.”

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The original bid, which has come to be known as version 1.0, was submitted to the USOC as part of the domestic competition to become the US bid city for the 2024 Games. At the time, Boston was competing with Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

After being chosen by the USOC in January, Boston 2024 struggled with how to share the documents.

Pressured by the media, the committee first suggested it would make the bid book available for reporters to read, but not to copy and publish. Then the committee agreed to make the documents public after removing what it called proprietary information that could pose a competitive disadvantage if released.

When media outlets used Freedom of Information laws to obtain a portion of the unredacted documents in May, Boston 2024 was heavily criticized for hiding from the public version a proposal for public financing for land and infrastructure at Widett Circle, site of the temporary Olympic stadium.

In June, hoping to move beyond the controversy, Boston 2024 issued a new Olympic plan, called version 2.0, designed to provide more credible and detailed information.

However, Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson insisted the remaining sections from the original bid also needed to be made public, creating another headache for the committee.

Jackson this week tried to persuade the council to subpoena the documents, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh urged the committee to release the full bid.

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Questioned Thursday at a Boston Globe/FOX 25 debate, Pagliuca said the documents would be made public Friday. “Although initially private due to confidential and competitive concerns, we agree that the public and the City Council ought to be able to review this information,” Pagliuca said.


Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson
@globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.