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Leaders, experts face off in Olympics debate

Key leadership for Boston 2024 and the United States Olympic Committee met with opponents Thursday to debate Boston’s bid for the summer games. PHOTO COURTESY OF MATTHIAS ROSENKRANZ VIA CREATIVE COMMONS

Several city leaders and experts went head-to-head Thursday in a televised debate about the logistics and potential impact of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympic in Boston.

Boston 2024 Chairman Steve Pagliuca and United States Olympic Committee board member Daniel Doctoroff spoke in support of hosting the Olympics, while No Boston Olympics Co-Chair Chris Dempsey and Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist spoke against.

Pagliuca said that Boston 2024’s release of previously redacted bid documents and insurance plans was more about transparency than about purposely coinciding the release with the debate.

“We have multiple sets of activities going on. We’re doing the venue planning, we’ve got the detailed budget that’s come out and the third piece was the insurance,” he said. “[I] started [as chair] May 21. It’s been a rapid time to turn around, but we really want to put things out that are not right quick.”

On Monday, the Boston City Council filed a motion to subpoena Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey to deliver two un-redacted chapters from the organization’s original bid. Boston 2024 announced Wednesday that it would release the full bid document next week.

The full original bid will now be released Friday, Pagliuca said, because the confidentiality agreement from the USOC has been lifted.

Releasing the bid is a step forward, Dempsey said, but there is still more to be done to garner support from residents.

“Boston 2024 is asking for a taxpayer guarantee if there are cost overruns, so people really need to feel like there is a sense of disclosure and transparency and honesty with Boston 2024, and they haven’t seen that,” he said.

A referendum to gauge public support for the Olympics is in the works, Pugliuca said.

“We’re not going to win unless we get public support,” he said.

Doctoroff said that even the process of bidding to host the Olympics can be transformative for potential host cities, citing improvements New York made to its transportation system when the city bid to host the 2012 games.

“It’s the only thing that basically occurs on a deadline, and what happens when things are on a deadline, is cities [and] states get their act together and get things done in an unprecedented time frame,” he said.

While the games could improve Boston, Dempsey said the money could be used elsewhere to help schools, roads and other issues important to tax payers.

“They have a 4.6 billion budget and not a penny of that budget is going to the MBTA,” he said. “All of the existing public money would be used for their priority projects, so they’re not growing the pie for transportation funding, they’re cutting a bigger slice for the projects they think they think are important instead of the projects we think are important.”

Zimbalist said inconveniences during the Olympics such as traffic are less of an issue than the lead-up and legacy of the games.

“What about the seven years up when all the construction happens? What about afterwards when we have increased density in downtown Boston and more people have to go in and out of the city?” He said. “There’s going to be obligations for building new roads [and] the widening the Mass Pike [Massachusetts Turnpike.]”

Pagliuca agreed that there can be risks to hosting the Olympics, but said that Boston is ready.

“This is a once in a lifetime economic opportunity to take Boston to the next level,” he said. “I think our biggest risk is not taking advantage of the opportunity.”

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