Boston officials to make their case for 2024 Olympic bid to the USOC

Boston officials have arrived in Northern California to face a crucial test in their campaign to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

After months of missteps and low public support back home, they will appear before a U.S. Olympic Committee board meeting here Tuesday to present a revamped proposal.

The new plan claims that Boston can stage the Games for a cost of $4.6 billion while generating enough money from ticket sales, local sponsorships and other sources to cover expenses and come away with a $210-million surplus.

But reassuring the USOC is only part of the challenge. Bid officials must convince skeptical Massachusetts residents who worry about getting stuck with the bill for one of the world's largest and most costly sporting events.

"We've put a lot of information out there," said Doug Rubin, a Boston 2024 spokesman. "We have to talk about it with the community, with local leaders and with legislators."

There isn't much time. The International Olympic Committee wants official submissions by mid-September. If Boston continues to struggle, the USOC could turn to Los Angeles as a last-minute United States replacement candidate.

"I think the USOC has a very difficult decision," said Jules Boykoff, a political science professor at Pacific University in Oregon who tracks Olympic bidding. "Boston 2024 can put forward information, but they have to get the public behind this."

It was just last winter that Boston edged out Los Angeles in a USOC competition to be the sole American bidder. Since then, cost has been of primary concern in Massachusetts, where a recent poll showed only 39% of respondents supported hosting the Games in the capital.

While Boston 2024 officials hoped the tweaks in their "Bid 2.0" would ease concerns, opponents are skeptical.

"The promise of a surplus has been heard in host cities before, but public debt and underutilized venues have been the typical post-Olympics reality," a group called No Boston Olympics said in a statement Monday.

Several numbers in the new plan attracted particular scrutiny. For example, bid officials estimated they could build a temporary Olympic Stadium for $176 million. Tokyo, by comparison, will spend a reported $2 billion on a permanent stadium for the 2020 Summer Games.

Boston also outlined a $128-million insurance package to cover cost overruns but acknowledged it does not have an insurer. The proposal excluded major infrastructure costs — including billions for regional transit — claiming those would have been undertaken by state and local governments regardless of the Olympics.

Similar arguments were made by organizers in Sochi, Russia, who distanced themselves from much of the estimated $51 billion spent on the 2014 Winter Games.

While estimating the Olympics would leave behind affordable housing and thousands of jobs, bid officials also emphasized a strategic shift.

Recent polling showed public support might rise significantly if venues were distributed statewide. Boston initially proposed a "walkable" Games but now plans to extend beyond the city with events such as canoeing in Deerfield River to the west and sailing at New Bedford in the south.

Officials emphasized their plan still calls for 23 venues in a roughly six-mile radius.

Low venue costs represented a selling point in Los Angeles' proposal last year, with officials planning to use an array of existing facilities such as Staples Center and the refurbished Pauley Pavilion. That means Los Angeles could quickly step in as a replacement if the USOC turns away from Boston, said sources close to the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly.

With less than three months to finalize their submission, USOC board members will devote much of Tuesday's meeting to the issue. They know an American entry would face stiff competition with Rome, Paris and Hamburg planning to contend for 2024.

"If Boston can't change the polling numbers in the next month or so," Boykoff said, "this bid is going nowhere."

david.wharton@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesWharton

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