City Council unanimous in final approval for L.A. to host 2024 Olympics

The private committee that is bidding to bring the Summer Olympics back to Los Angeles did its best to put on a show Wednesday at Grand Park.

LA 2024 officials invited scores of famous athletes led by four-time gold medalist Michael Johnson. Mayor Eric Garcetti came, as did Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

The occasion was noteworthy — the City Council had just voted unanimously to approve the bid and, more importantly, to serve as a financial backstop should the event run over budget.

So the message at LA 2024’s news conference, held with City Hall in the background, was intended to reach a wide audience.

As the bid committee competes against rivals from Paris and Budapest, Hungary, it must reassure International Olympic Committee members around the world that it has solid government support.

“Without the council’s confidence in us, we would not be bidding,” said Janet Evans, a former Olympic swimmer and LA 2024’s vice chairwoman.

Hosting  the Games has become a dicey proposition in recent years, with contenders withdrawing over concerns about massive deficits. This time around, L.A. became the U.S. candidate only after Boston backed out.

LA 2024 has since put forth a proposal that avoids billions of dollars in construction by using existing venues such as the Coliseum, Staples Center and Pauley Pavilion. UCLA dormitories would take the place of the normally expensive athletes’ village.

The plan has so far drawn praise from Olympic critics, though Victor Matheson, an economics professor atHoly Cross, warned that “costs can creep up pretty quickly if you’re not careful.”

Bid leaders have estimated the event would cost $5.3 billion, an amount they believe would be covered by revenues from sources such as broadcast rights, corporate sponsorships and ticket sales.

Through months of negotiations with council members and city staff, LA 2024 has pledged to take out insurance policies and set aside a $491.9-million contingency for cost overruns.

Those promises helped reassure city officials, who agreed to sign the IOC’s “host city contract” if L.A. is selected in a vote next September.

“In the beginning, members of the council were supportive but not sure from the financial perspective,” Council President Herb Wesson said. “We were crossing T’s and dotting I’s, working in partnership to make this a better bid.”

Under the current arrangement, if an L.A. Olympics were to run over budget, the city would be responsible for the first $250 million, after which the state of California has said it would pay an additional $250 million. Any remaining debt would revert back to the city.

Council support was all but assured last week after an ad hoc committee recommended approval.  Still, LA 2024 paraded Olympic stars into City Hall for the final vote.

The marquee names included soccer player Cobi Jones, swimmer John Naber, short-track speedskater Apolo Ohno, volleyball player Sinjin Smith and track luminaries spanning a half-century of Olympics from Wyomia Tyus, a triple gold medalist in the 1960s, to Johnson and Dawn Harper-Nelson.

“The world now knows that we are completely united in our desire to bring the Games back to the U.S.,” said Johnson, who won two of his four gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

As the bid cycle moves into its home stretch, LA 2024 leaders — armed with city backing — will continue traveling to international sports events to woo IOC members. Wednesday’s news conference served as the first step in this final push.

“LA 2024 is the proof that bids can offer benefits, not burdens, to host cities of the future,” bid chairman Casey Wasserman said. “And that is exactly what the IOC is looking for.”

david.wharton@latimes.com

Follow @LAtimesWharton on Twitter

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