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JOAN VENNOCHI

The Olympic gamble for Boston

Signatures of support covered a Boston 2024 banner.
Signatures of support covered a Boston 2024 banner.John Tlumacki/Globe staff

A new study into the potential consequences of Boston hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics sounds something like a Viagra pitch.

You could have the best sex of your life. Or you could end up seeking medical treatment for vision problems and other uncomfortable conditions.

Applying a similar analysis to the Olympics — bringing them to Boston could be worth billions. Or taxpayers could end up having something rather indelicate happen to them.

Such are the conclusions of a study commissioned by the Boston Foundation. Billed as “independent,” the study was conducted by researchers who work directly under the president of the University of Massachusetts — a public institution whose Boston campus is key to the bid committee’s plan as the potential home for an Olympic village.

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On the upside, the study predicts a Boston Olympics would generate up to $4 billion in new construction from 2013 to 2023, $5 billion in economic activity from operations of the Games in 2024, and another $514 million in tourism-related activity. There’s also potential for 4,000 construction jobs in the years leading up to the event, and “tens of thousands” of temporary positions when it actually happens.

The rewards are similar to those promised by the casino industry. But with both, of course, there’s a downside. For casinos, that includes the possibility that revenue and job creation do not meet projections, plus the added societal costs of crime and gambling addiction. With the Olympics, there’s “the real possibility of cost overruns and what they may mean to the public sector,” warns the Boston Foundation study.

To its credit, this study tries to assess how much the Olympics might drain from other economic activity, while also acknowledging significant risk to taxpayers.

That risk comes just as public transit is falling apart; housing affordability is worsening, according to another Boston Foundation study; and a new Brookings Institution study showed income inequality in Boston is a serious problem. With backing from Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Boston 2024, the local bid committee, is promoting the Games as the best way to confront the city’s basic economic and transportation challenges.

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From that perspective, playing host to the world in 2024 is the ultimate magic pill — a painless way to get Boston where it needs to go. But if backers are wrong, taxpayers will suffer. Boston 2024 is planning for a $4.7 billion operating budget, to be funded through corporate sponsorships, broadcast fees, and tickets sales. Private developers would commit another $3.4 billion to build Olympic facilities. Public money would only be used for transportation improvements and security costs.

For some people, there’s already very good economic news out of Boston 2024. The nonprofit has a payroll of nearly $2 million. That includes a $7,500-a-day stipend for former Governor Deval Patrick, who signed up to play the role of goodwill ambassador on an international stage. On Thursday, Patrick said he would work for free, after the mayor of Boston suggested that would be the better course. Patrick is a gifted politician and will need every bit of that talent to avoid stirring up the ill will of Governor Charlie Baker. After all, the current governor will be held accountable if the public has to pay up beyond the limits already established by Olympic backers. And Baker must also be ready to cede the glory of winning the Games to his Democratic predecessor.

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Past any petty backbiting over who really runs things around here — Baker, Walsh, or John Fish & Co. at Boston 2024 — there’s a larger economic policy concern. Will Boston 2024 truly spread the wealth beyond the friends of Deval, Marty, and other politically-wired individuals and corporate entities?

The quest for Olympic gold could turn out to be a boon for downtown, but a bust for Boston neighborhoods — and do nothing to alleviate the severe income inequality documented by the Brookings Institution. It might somehow channel funding for Robert Kraft and a new Boston soccer stadium, yet burden average taxpayers with the cost of projects they never would have assumed but for the Olympics. It could mean millions of dollars in billable hours for enough political consultants to fill an Olympic village — but never produce the kind of housing Boston really needs.

For every Olympic athlete, there’s always that shot at agony or ecstasy.

So it is, too, for the host city.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.