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Can LA really win its Olympic bid?

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Bill Hanway, master planner of the Rio and London games, says yes

Two weekends ago, as Olympic competition kicked off in Brazil, Mayor Eric Garcetti and officials from LA’s Olympic bid were in Rio de Janeiro to make the case for Los Angeles to host the 2024 games. The question of whether that’s a good idea has been hotly debated on both sides. Given the well-documented problems surrounding the Rio games, some wonder if hosting might put undue stress on the city’s economy.

But questions like that don’t matter unless LA has a real shot at the games. Just last year, the city’s bid seemed like a long shot. Los Angeles wasn’t even the U.S. Olympic Committee’s first choice to represent the nation in its hunt for the games. But when Boston’s bid abruptly collapsed, LA quickly stepped into the role of standard bearer for the United States.

Now, it’s one of four remaining finalists competing for the games. The other three cities: Rome, Budapest, and Paris. Paris is in bold font in that last sentence, because it’s something of an elephant in the room here. Widely seen as LA’s main competition for the games, Paris hasn’t hosted since 1924—so 2024 would mark the 100th anniversary of that occasion. Since then, LA has hosted twice. Just look at Paris unveiling its bid logo on the freaking Arc de Triomphe. Could the International Olympic Committee really say no to the city of lights?

Bill Hanway thinks so, and he’s in a position to know. As global head of sports at engineering firm AECOM, and before that with EDAW, Hanway has overseen plans for the games in London and Rio de Janeiro and is currently advising on the 2020 games in Tokyo. He’s also been deeply involved with LA’s bid for the 2024 games.

"I wouldn’t be committing two years of my life to this if I didn’t believe that LA has a very strong chance," he tells Curbed LA.

Part of the reason that Hanway and others are optimistic about LA’s chances is that the games have succeeded here before. The 1984 games, arguably the most successful ever, resulted in a surplus of $232.5 million—of which the city kept $93 million. Hanway says that leaders of LA’s 2024 bid are already analyzing ways to ensure future games would remain financially viable. "For us," he says, "the games are all about being financially responsible—creating a great games that takes advantage of the creativity and innovation that amasses in Southern California, and also bringing back some of the youthful enthusiasm to the games that only California can bring."

Another advantage for Los Angeles is that many of the facilities used in 1984 are still here. Plus, nearly every venue LA 2024 has proposed for use in the games exists today or is under construction. And while that means the games won’t result in a stunning cultural icon like Herzog and de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, it also means LA wouldn't be stuck with any big and expensive venues that sit empty for most of the year.

"We have to show the world there’s a very, very responsible and responsive way to host the games without huge expenditures," Hanway says. "And the fact that we have all the venues in place can only be a fantastic asset to our bid.

Moreover, where other cities have used the Olympics as a means of improving infrastructure and mass transit projects, much of that work is already being undertaken in LA. "That infrastructure that is typically seen as part of Olympic games is already being done regardless of whether the games come to LA," Hanway points out.

Those improvements include a massive overhaul of LAX and the many transit projects planned, in progress, or recently completed. Hanway says these changes can only help to strengthen LA’s bid for the games. "Just the simple act of opening up the Metro from Downtown to Santa Monica Beach has transformed people’s perspectives of how to get to Santa Monica and the ease of doing so."

Bid officials expect that public transit systems will be the main mode of transportation for spectators at the games—as it surely was in 1932, when the city first hosted.

Will all this be enough to convince IOC officials to pass over Paris, Rome, and Budapest? That remains to be seen (the winning city will be announced next summer). But Hanway is hopeful. "I know very deeply in my heart that LA could host a great Olympic games," he says.

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Bill Hanway, global sports leader at AECOM