Failed 2024 Olympic bid slammed in state-backed report
Consultants hired by state leaders eviscerated Boston’s defunct Olympic bid Tuesday, suggesting planners underestimated potential expenses, skimped on contingency funds, and were too optimistic in assessing public infrastructure costs for the Games.
The conclusions of the Brattle Group were a final beat-down for the local bid committee, Boston 2024, which tried to bring Olympic glory to Boston but then saw the effort collapse in July after months of controversy and stubbornly low poll numbers.
Had the bid not already been pulled, the Brattle Group’s harsh analysis probably would have been the poison pill to finish off the politically wounded Olympic effort.
Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday the analysis would have dissuaded him from signing off on the proposal, were it still viable. The findings “demonstrated that there were, in fact, significant risks,” he said.
Baker pointed specifically to possible costs associated with the proposed redevelopment of Widett Circle and with transportation projects needed to put on the Olympics. Among other things, the report questioned whether developers would find the projects too risky to undertake.
Boston 2024, in a lengthy statement, took issue with some of the Brattle Group’s findings and said the report contains several mistakes.
“Unfortunately, the Brattle Group never fact-checked many of their findings, which would have prevented these errors,” Boston 2024 said.
The organization highlighted specific examples in which it says the consultants misconstrued the Olympic plan or applied bad analysis, but in general the report “is a simple comparison of our budget to past Games including London,” Boston 2024 said. “There was no effort to critique our venue-by-venue construction budgets which we provided, down to very specific costs of steel, concrete, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC on a square-foot basis.”
The governor deflected criticism of Boston 2024 at a news conference Tuesday. He praised the group’s work on its revised Olympic proposal, known as “bid 2.0,” which was released in June under the leadership of bid chairman Steve Pagliuca. Baker said the committee, given more time, probably would have been able to provide answers to outstanding questions and address some of the concerns that hobbled the bid.
Baker commissioned the Brattle study with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg for a cost of up to $250,000. Before the study was finished, the US Olympic Committee and Boston 2024 announced the end of the bid, with low public support the primary cause of death. A Brattle Group spokesperson said the report did not substantially change after the bid collapsed.
Officers of the US Olympic Committee last week confirmed they’re in talks with city leaders in Los Angeles about mounting a bid for the 2024 Summer Games in place of Boston.
Boston 2024 had proposed an Olympic operating budget of about $4.6 billion and a capital budget of $4 billion. The Brattle Group found the risk of revenue shortfalls to be “relatively low” but raised questions about the committee’s cost estimates, suggesting the price tag could have been up to $3 billion higher.
The report suggests the riskiest part of the Olympic construction plan was Boston 2024’s proposal to attract private developers to build an athletes village at Columbia Point and critical infrastructure at Widett Circle, where the bid committee wanted to erect a temporary stadium. The development deals would have been sweetened by city tax breaks under Boston 2024’s plan.
“Past experience suggests these projects carry significant risk, with respect to both cost overruns and delays,” the Brattle Group wrote.
Among the potential problems at Widett Circle was the possibility that private land owners would refuse to sell. Developers might also have been reluctant to take on the projects, the Brattle Group said, because of Olympic deadlines and construction cost risks. The consultants, in addition, said the projected rate of return for the developers might have been too low, possibly requiring more financial incentives to attract suitable companies.
The report also takes issue with Boston 2024’s cost estimates for public transportation improvements, including proposed MBTA upgrades.
Boston 2024 had counted on the federal government to provide $1 billion or more for security. In this case, the Brattle Group found it “reasonable to assume that the federal government would have provided the necessary security funding.”
An opposition group, No Boston Olympics, said the analysis “confirms that Boston 2024 was a risky deal for taxpayers . . . Massachusetts dodged a bullet.”
But for supporter Jeffrey Kevorkian of Middleton, the demise of Boston 2024 still feels like a lost opportunity. “The ‘can’t-do’ attitude around here is disgusting,” Kevorkian said. “If Atlanta can host the Olympics, circa 1996, then Boston certainly can twenty to thirty years later.”