Win­ning the Olympic Games

The city has the 2028 Sum­mer Games. Now it faces years of hard work man­ag­ing this huge project.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Los An­ge­les scored a ma­jor vic­tory this week by se­cur­ing both the right to host the 2028 Sum­mer Olympic Games and con­ces­sions from the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s Olympic com­mit­tee of­fi­cials get credit for ex­tract­ing a bet­ter deal from the IOC in ex­change for agree­ing to wait an ad­di­tional four years and let Paris host the 2024 Games.

As Garcetti cor­rectly points out, the city (not to men­tion the re­gion, state and na­tion) has much to gain in terms of di­rect and in­di­rect eco­nomic ben­e­fits, in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments and good­will from host­ing the Games. But it would be fool­ish for city lead­ers to as­sume that L.A. just can’t lose, as Garcetti and other Olympics boost­ers have as­serted. Of course it can. There are no guar­an­tees when it comes to ticket sales, spon­sor­ship deals or la­bor and ma­te­ri­als costs for an event more than a decade away. And be­cause the IOC re­fuses to share the risk of cost over­runs, host cities are on the hook for any bud­get-bust­ing de­vel­op­ments.

Ide­ally, Garcetti would have in­sisted that the IOC pro­tect the city from cost over­runs in ex­change for ac­cept­ing the later date. But the city’s ex­pe­ri­ence with the 1984 Sum­mer Games sug­gests that the win­dow for ne­go­ti­a­tions hasn’t fully closed. In the run-up to the ’84 Games, pub­lic con­cern about the po­ten­tial for a tax­payer bailout led vot­ers to ap­prove a bal­lot mea­sure that threat­ened to with­draw L.A. as host un­less the IOC re­duced the city’s risk. That’s what led the IOC to waive the re­quire­ment that L.A. shoul­der all unan­tic­i­pated costs.

Re­gard­less, city lead­ers need to start work­ing now to make sure the $5.3-bil­lion project doesn’t turn into a boon­dog­gle over the com­ing 11 years. Be­fore com­mit­ting the city’s trea­sury to such a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing, city lead­ers must also com­mit them­selves and their suc­ces­sors to vig­i­lant over­sight. That re­spon­si­bil­ity be­gins as soon as next week, when the L.A. City Coun­cil is ex­pected to con­sider the new host city con­tract. Coun­cil mem­bers must make sure that all the prom­ises made by the IOC are in the doc­u­ment be­fore the deal is fi­nal­ized at the IOC’s ses­sion in Lima, Peru, on Sept. 13.

The city — and the pub­lic — must scru­ti­nize the fi­nan­cial as­sump­tions and pro­jec­tions of the non-profit group act­ing as the lo­cal Olympic or­ga­niz­ers. The point is to de­tect and re­spond to prob­lems as they emerge, not af­ter they be­come ir­repara­ble.

That said, the mayor and L.A. Olympic com­mit­tee of­fi­cials ap­pear to have done as much as pos­si­ble un­der the cir­cum­stances to in­su­late the city from fi­nan­cial dis­as­ter. The bud­get has a re­serve of $487 mil­lion, and the state had agreed to kick in $250 mil­lion to help pay for any short­fall in 2024. The new 2028 deal mit­i­gates the risk even fur­ther by cut­ting some costs and find­ing new rev­enues.

Los An­ge­les also starts out with a cru­cial ad­van­tage over other hosts: It doesn’t have to spend bil­lions of dol­lars build­ing any­thing. The plan is to use fields, are­nas and other fa­cil­i­ties that al­ready ex­ist or are slated to be built soon with pri­vate dol­lars. The one bigticket item in the city’s orig­i­nal pro­posal — a new, $1 bil­lion Olympic Vil­lage to be con­structed near down­town — was dropped in fa­vor of a more pru­dent ar­range­ment to house ath­letes in UCLA’s new dorms.

Some An­ge­lenos might won­der why the city should bother putting on some­thing that prom­ises in­con­ve­nience at best and a costly tax­payer bur­den at worst. The an­swer is that if they’re done well, the Games can pay eco­nomic and civic div­i­dends long af­ter any Olympic-sized traf­fic jams are cleared. This means more fed­eral fund­ing sooner for in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments, an in­flux of pri­vate in­vest­ment, and spruced up streets, parks and pub­lic spa­ces. This par­tic­u­lar deal also means an im­me­di­ate $160 mil­lion in­vest­ment in youth sports. That may sound like small change, but to the many kids who don’t play sports be­cause their par­ents can’t af­ford sign-up fees as high as $150, it could be life-chang­ing.

There’s also the in­tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits of be­ing part of a global, his­toric tra­di­tion — one of the few ex­tant — that brings the en­tire world to your city. It can be a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence for An­ge­lenos and their chil­dren, while sell­ing the city to the mil­lions who at­tend or watch the events from afar.

The 1984 games turned out to be a fi­nan­cial suc­cess, do­ing more good for its host city than any sum­mer games since then. L.A. may not be able to top that in 2028, but with luck and dili­gence it could host a world class Olympic Games that leaves the city proud, not wracked with buyer’s re­morse.

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