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Olympic Stadium's future is taking too long to resolve

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David Bond | 17:53 UK time, Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Despite claims to the contrary, Boris Johnson believes the Olympic Stadium will be ready to reopen before the end of the Rio Games in 2016.

Nevertheless - and despite the London Mayor's optimism when talking to London Assembly members on Wednesday - it remains a very real prospect that a stadium widely acclaimed during London's successful Games, and which took just three years to build, will take four years to convert.

Dennis Hone, the chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), said as much again when he repeated his line to the London Assembly from last week that 2015 is now the target but 2016 a possibility.

Johnson added, worryingly, that Londoners might have to be patient and recognise the Olympic Stadium was not built to be "the kind of omni-purpose world-class venue capable of hosting Premier League football that it should be".

Olympic Stadium

Fireworks light up the Olympic Stadium during the London 2012 Paralympic closing ceremony. Photo: Getty

So why are we in this mess?

The main reason, as Johnson suggests, is that organisers made a major mistake by writing Premier League football out of original designs for the legacy use of the stadium. But we've known this for years. So why is it in danger of descending into another farce?

The process to find a long-term anchor for the stadium is stalling because the plans to convert it for Premier League football have changed again, increasing the cost to somewhere between £180m and £190m.

Under the original deal with West Ham, which collapsed last autumn because of legal challenges, the Premier League team would own the freehold to the stadium.

At that time the cost discussed was around £95m to £100m and was to be funded from three sources - £38m from the Olympic budget of £9.3bn, £40m from Newham Council in the form of a low interest loan, and around £20m from the sale of Upton Park.

This would have paid to extend the roof - which currently only covers two thirds of the seating area - add corporate hospitality facilities and refurbish toilets.

So why has the cost almost doubled?

The main reason is the decision to add retractable seating to bring football fans closer to the action.

Demountable seats - similar to the ones used for temporary venues like Greenwich Park during the Games - cost less but take weeks to put up and take down.

This potentially impacts on the commercial value of the stadium as it may reduce the number of events that can be staged there.

So, while a retractable seating mechanism costs a lot more to factor in, the LLDC is thought to now favour the option as it could lead to more income in the long run.

The roof also needs an even bigger extension as it would now need to cover the running track and the retractable seats on it.

But while the costs have gone up, the funding provision has, largely, remained the same.

There is still £38m from the Olympic budget, a loan of £40m from Newham (although this could be increased) and a contribution from West Ham, though, surprisingly perhaps, this appears to have gone down to around £10m.

West Ham argue that they bring unique commercial value to the stadium project and now believe that, as they are no longer going to own the freehold to the stadium, it is the landlord - the mayor and LLDC - who should bear the cost of upgrading it for football. Without them, the stadium will become a costly millstone around taxpayers' necks, they say.

The Premier League club are understood to have submitted a package which includes a minimum lump sum, an annual rental (around £2m) and a share of any naming rights deal they are able to bring in. There is also haggling going on over how the revenue from catering should be split between tenant and landlord.

But it is the capital funding shortfall that is proving to be the big stumbling block. So how do you plug the gap?

Johnson has already tried to raid the £377m Olympic budget underspend - receiving a swift and negative response from the Chancellor, George Osborne. There are London taxpayer funds available and the LLDC itself could raid some of its own transformation budget but that could mean spending less on other parts of the park. There is also nervousness about the legal implications of publicly subsidising a big football club.

It is a complicated process that has not been helped by the continual changes at the top of the LLDC. Johnson is now chairing the organisation, having taken over from Daniel Moylan in September, while Hone, the widely respected chief of the Olympic Delivery Authority, replaced former chief executive Andy Altman.

West Ham remain the favourites to secure the deal as anchor tenants for a stadium which cost £431m to build, well ahead of rival bids from Leyton Orient Football Club, a football business school and a consortium proposing Formula One races in the park.

Yet the LLDC could still snub West Ham, appoint an operating company and just hire the stadium out for concerts and more occasional sporting events like NFL matches, big rugby games, combining it with more community use.

This would allow the stadium to reopen in 2014, and avoid spending the best part of £200m and losing valuable income while the stadium remains shut. Without a big football team the running costs would also be lower.

Of course all this could have been avoided had the Government and the Olympic Delivery Authority factored in Premier League football back in 2006 and 2007 when the plans were being drawn up.

It is a costly mistake which continues to overshadow all the other wonderful achievements delivered by London's Olympic organisers.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good article. This is a complete farce with promises made now turning into "maybe's" of 2015 or 2016. I am not a West Ham fan but they are the obvious choice as a premier league team who have committed to lower prices for fans in order to fill an 80,000 stadium. Good news for all football supporters as lets be honest its a magnificent venue that we should all be proud of. London already has the O2, Wembley & Twickenham for major sports events outside of football - I doubt it needs another. So lets get the stadium open for us all to enjoy be it football or just visiting the great facilities

  • Comment number 2.

    I don't care how long they take, as long as they keep the track!

  • Comment number 3.

    A marathon not a sprint, I suppose, but the decision must retain the Running Track.

  • Comment number 4.

    Not that my opinion counts...but I agree with LLDC keeping the ground, opening it sooner, and letting it out for NFL, Aviva Premier League games, Essex Cricket 2020 matches, athletics, concerts etc. It will be used more this way, rather than giving/renting to WHU, who will only be able to use maximum 19 league games (2-4 cup games a year).

    If not a dual use for Leyton and West Ham!

  • Comment number 5.

    Essex Canary:

    Please explain how "letting it out for NFL, Aviva Premier League games, Essex Cricket 2020 matches, athletics, concerts etc" provides the stadium with more use than all of those PLUS West Ham in addition??

  • Comment number 6.

    If you watched the hopeless performance by the LLDC presentation party to the london assembly last week you would be surprised if the stadium ever reopened.They seemed unable to actually answer questions in any detail about the legacy plans .

  • Comment number 7.

    I've always favoured the idea of using the stadium as a multi-purpose arena rather than principally as yet another PL stadium. Look how well the Millennium Dome has done since it became the O2 Arena, the Olympic Stadium could become an outdoor version of that, hosting a multitude of concerts, sports fixtures, exhibitions, etc. I had the pleasure of visiting the stadium quite a few times during the Games, both for athletics and for the Paralympics Closing Ceremony, and one thing that really struck me was how good the acoustics were in the venue, especially compared with similar venues such as Wembley Stadium, which is very echoey for concerts. Open it in 2014 and I'm sure its calendar will become busy very quickly - and I can't wait for the Athletics World Championship in 2017 either way!

  • Comment number 8.

    This whole episode is a farce. A decision could be made tomorrow but the dithering idiots who are now in charge of the Olympic Stadium.

  • Comment number 9.

    Is there not enough football grounds in london..has know one thought of the idea of turning the olimpic stagium into the uk's largest cricket ground..the home of cricket..think about it..80.000 cricket fans..and yes it can be filled of cricket fans..you have surly got more chance of filling it with cricket fans..come on..it's only west ham..they get 30.000-35.000 fans every week..what a waste of 45.000-50.000 seats every week..cricket is the answer..were all of englands cricket finals could be heldengland matchs..look at the size of the cricket grounds in australia..come on people..someone please..football..tut tut..lets have a cricket ground that england can be proud of..

  • Comment number 10.

    It's a convenient myth thst snubbing Premier League football has caused this mess.

    The mess has been caused principally by Boris' administration in City Hall who - rather than even attempting to make the stadium viable as a small, world class athletics venue hosting other events in the off-season - rushed to try to get the stadium off of its books. In the process they accepted a bid from one football club that had an illegal loan attached, and willfully encouraged an unpopular bid from another football club with the "promise" removing the track wouldn't hamper their chances. It is no surprise this original ended in a mess.

    It's the politics that has caused this mess. Subsidising a small stadium for our sucessful Olympians which would also have hosted community and domestic sport was an anathema for Boris. He wanted rid. Ironic that he's now fishing around for £200m to suit West Ham, a hell of a lot more money than the reduced 25k stadium would have cost to subside.

    Had the politicians the guts to see through the original plan we wouldn't now be talking of snubbing football being a mistake. We'd instead be looking forward to a new stadium for our Olympians being opened at an extra cost of £38m in two years' time. And we'd be saying "job well done".

  • Comment number 11.

    This is a great venue, but must have a long term legacy. This only leaves West Ham as a realistic tenant that will bring people to Stratford on a regular basis which the area desperately needs.
    Stop stalling and get this finalised unless you want another white elephant?

  • Comment number 12.

    RobH has a point - the fact is that the original plans for the legacy of the stadium - on which everything else was designed, planned and built (both in terms of the physical building and the business model) - was for a c.25,000 capacity athletics venue. With no football in sight.

    While the points made about the spiralling costs are interesting - mainly due to the changes in the design - sadly this was inevitable as soon as we started talking about this new c.50,000 football/athletics venue.

    There was nothing wrong with the original plans (other than the issues around the financial sustainability of the stadium), but the new hybrid option is fraught with difficulties, both political and technical.

  • Comment number 13.

    @2 - whilst not disagreeing with your thoughts / comment in my opinion they should not keep the track. Outside of the Olympics there is not a requirement in London to have a massive stadium for athletics. It's just not that popular a sport long term. If it goes to a football club they will almost certainly get rid of the track. Watching football with a track round the pitch is a serious detriment to the English game.

  • Comment number 14.

    It will be obviously wrong if they allow a football club to use the Olympic Stadium now. I can see it been used to host multi-events like what we see is happening with Wembley Stadium.

  • Comment number 15.

    Of course all this would have been avoided if they just bit the bullet and made the Olympic park the home of UK Athletics, cycling, swimming etc. They would have had sports working together on best practice, an inspirational place for the next generation to learn or simply visit and world class facilities. I can't think why they didn't do it, oh wait it was the most obvious thing to do, that's why.

  • Comment number 16.

    Boris will have to talk his way out of this one, how much will delaying a decision cost ? will we first have a new Government even a new Mayor and possibly no BBC sunk by the reluctance of people to renew their license.

  • Comment number 17.

    This summer showed us the value of sports other than football - it should not now subsidise a game dominated by over-paid primadonnas.

    Surely a large stadium could host all sorts of non-football events - concerts etc and it can do that without needing extensive changes.

  • Comment number 18.

    Totally predictable mess. There were no firm plans in place by the time of the Games. All the promises of legacy were based on assumptions - figures plucked out of thin air - and an attitude of "let's keep our fingers crossed and hope something pans out."

  • Comment number 19.

    "So why is it in danger of descending into another farce?"

    "Farce", really ?
    It's just like pre-Olympics, in common with news now, where every story is a an over reacting disaster and every article has to focus on the negative.
    Why not start at the positive then work from there; you work for us so why depress us ?

    COYI.

  • Comment number 20.

    As a sports in general fan I would hate to see the stadium used for football alone, it would be such a waste. During the Olympics football took a back seat so it just wouldn't be right.

    Since the people paid for the stadium, I think the people should decide what happens to it....

  • Comment number 21.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 22.

    As a West Ham fan I'm desperately hoping that we do not get the stadium, not least because we're struggling to fill our 35,000-odd ground at the moment. (Although I think that's more to do with ticket pricing than support base). Unfortunately it does seem that Gold & Sullivan's plans to hold the government to ransom will eventually work since there's apparently no other viable solution. Looks like a bit of a mess all round really

  • Comment number 23.

    Very good blog

    As a spurs supporter, I was pleased that we were turned down as this has become a nightmare and didn't want Spurs to become another Wimbledon FC by moving area.

    However, had the Olympic committee listened to THS, they would not have had this financial dilemma and Athletics would have been left with a great legacy once re built in Crystal Palais by THS.

    I am personally pleased that THS bid was refused as we do not want your stadium, but feel that the brains of LLDC leave little to be desired as now they have nothing.

  • Comment number 24.

    As much as I love athletics, we're not going to fill a large 60,000+ stadium that often. In fact, we barely fill the much smaller Crystal Palace for the London Grand Prix each year (I do go). Now I loved the Olympics, but the stadium decision must be a commercial one, not an emotional one. Spurs were the only bid that were honest about the need to convert the stadium - and they were going to redevelop Crystal Palace. If we look at West Ham they post begging letters in the metro each home game for the 'last remaining few seats'. And many Hammers fans I've spoken to dont like the current configuration - who wants to be so far from the pitch? Should've gone to Spurs!

  • Comment number 25.

    PS, no need to make this political as I do not blame Boris but point your finger at the original organizers, as they should have planned from the outset.

    I do not think that WH or THS should have the venue or that our fans want the stadium as we have to much history in our area, but do link it with Leyton Orient who are within the area and cannot afford a stadium and other facilities, such as Cricket, Rugby, Athletics and Social Event, would be a benefit to the area and leave LLDC with the catering, sponsorship and advertising to make a profit for the borough and leave the people a legacy of which it was intended.

    Football teams in the Premier League need full status, sponsorship and advertising to survive which is 70% of the revenue which we already have were we are.

  • Comment number 26.

    David Bond has hit the nail squarely on the head when he says that the LLDC could snub football completely. And it should too, because it is inconceivable in the current financial climate for the public purse to pay tens of millions of pounds to enable a Premier League football team to play there. Premier League football receives obscene amounts of TV rights money, but one of its members wants the public to pay so it can have a bigger stadium when it can't fill its current one? Ridiculous. Oh, and two words: state aid.

    We are where we are, which is an Olympic Stadium that was never designed to have retractable seating. There has never been an attempt to retrofit such seating onto a stadium, so even the estimated cost of carrying out such an engineering feat is undoubtedly on the low side, if it can even be achieved without completely demolishing the stadium.

    It's time for the LLDC to end this farcical attempt to shoehorn football into the stadium. Hand it over to an operating company, get it open sooner as the home to UK Athletics and a venue for community and non-football use, and let West Ham try to fill the stadium they've got and live within their means.

  • Comment number 27.

    I have to say that I'm still amazed that this wasn't all sorted out sooner. They should have opened the stadium bidding process much earlier so that we weren't in this mess at all. That way, there wouldn't be any need for a delay, because this whole saga would have been over and done with before the Olympics had even begun.

    Nevertheless, while we could use this as a multi-purpose arena, like the O2, we already have plenty of very good multi-purpose arenas in London (Wembley Stadium/Arena, Excel, Earl's Court, Olympia in Kensington) which can take concerts and the like. The organisers for the Rugby World Cup in 2015 have already expressed an interest in using the Olympic Stadium during the tournament, which could be another avenue. However, this would be one solitary event, as otherwise, Twickenham is a more than adequate venue for hosting internationals and the more popular domestic games. Additionally, the NFL has signed a contract with Wembley to use the stadium for the next 5 years, so even if the Olympic Stadium were to be set out for American Football, it wouldn't be until after 2017, which is a pretty long time to wait. Therefore, while I agree that you could use it for these things, it shouldn't be its sole purpose.

    What I would suggest, as others have on here, would be to use it as much as possible. Premier League clubs nowadays, with the Financial Fair Play rules soon to be introduced, need to generate as much turnover as they possibly can in order to help them stay afloat. Therefore, giving the likes of West Ham a new stadium for their home fans which is still in East London wouldn't be the worst idea. While I realise that this may delay the stadium opening, if it's going to benefit sport, then so be it.

    Otherwise, UK Athletics should be able to use it as well. Any football club is realistically only going to use their home ground a maximum of 30 days a season and during the Summer, it's almost certainly not going to be used. With this in mind, Athetics meetings can be organised during this time. This would then give the stadium real use during the summer months and would also mean that it's fit for purpose to stage the World Athletics Championships in 2017.

    So, to summarise, the Olympic stadium is a wonderful thing that, realistically, we've all helped to pay for. Therefore, we should all be getting as much out of it as we possibly can by using it as much as we can, as it would just be stupid and pointless not to. Football would guarantee a sizeable amount of usage throughout the year and for everything else, there is Athletics, concerts, etc.

  • Comment number 28.

    What a joke, how can a £431m stadium need another £200m worth of improvements!?

    Also West Ham can get lost, if they dont want to spend any money then they dont deserve to have access to the stadium, they have a perfectly suitable ground for their status and usage, give the stadium to Leyton Orient, the closest club and make it a 24k seater as origninally proposed!

    When are we as a country going to learn that committees and processess are pointless and pure timewasting, just get on with it!!!!!

  • Comment number 29.

    SoupPlate:

    Essex Canary:

    Please explain how "letting it out for NFL, Aviva Premier League games, Essex Cricket 2020 matches, athletics, concerts etc" provides the stadium with more use than all of those PLUS West Ham in addition??

    If football is used within the stadium, then I think most people believe the track should be omitted, or retractable seating added? This is the reason why costs are going up, and will take until 2016 to re-open.

    Leave the track where it is, which was agreed, and part of reason we won the bid "legacy". It could be re-opened by next summer, and we can forget about a little team in East London!

  • Comment number 30.

    Soup plate
    '
    Essex Canary:

    Please explain how "letting it out for NFL, Aviva Premier League games, Essex Cricket 2020 matches, athletics, concerts etc" provides the stadium with more use than all of those PLUS West Ham in addition??'

    Because they are incompatible. Premier League games every other week for 9months a year, then enough time to sensibly allow the ground staff to get the pitch back upto early season standard, doesn't leave a lot of time for much else. (That's why Old Trafford, St James' Park etc don't get much non soccer use.)

    I think LLDC should forget about the Olympic Stadium as a soccer venue, except for maybe, maybe Champions League finals, that sort of thing. If the NFL are serious about a London franchise, that's an obvious target for LLDC, a quality athletics meet every year, London's stadium gig venue of choice. There is plenty of choice possible, at a more accessible venue that Wembley.

  • Comment number 31.

    Was it not Sebastian Coe's earnest desire that the OS should not be used as the home of a football club? And that this swung the design? Am I wrong here?

    The whole situation is utterly predictable. I (and anyone else) knew even as it was being planned that the most effective long term future for the OS was as a multi venue stadium with professional football at the heart of it. A win-win for everyone (except for those with an interest in preventing West Ham from getting it). West Ham were always the likely choice.

    So no surprise about all this really. We are where we are. We should just get on with it unless we want it to be a white elephant

  • Comment number 32.

    Just do what we told the world we would do. Capacity back down to 25,000 with an athletics legacy, hand it to Orient as the legitimate local lower league club and fill the rest in with Essex 20/20 cricket and the odd concert.

  • Comment number 33.

    I don't have a problem with a football team using the OS as long as they keep the track. I don't understand why the football lobby are such zealots on the issue. After all, Wembley had dog track around it (plus an athletics track at one time) and some distance between the crowd and the pitch at either end, and I don't recall anyone complaining about the view or the atmosphere!

    Similarly the old Stamford Bridge had a dog track as well, etc. I just think the average football fan is too young to remember stadiums like that, and think that you have to be right at the edge of a pitch to have a decent atmosphere...

  • Comment number 34.

    Orient only want to use the Stadium with the same reconfigured seating as West Ham, regardless of size of stadium, even at 25,000 it still needs seating across the running track. Space for 25,000 behind a running track will kill Orient,just not as fast as 50,000. I don't know why some deal can't be done with naming rights to cover a large chunk of the cost of the retractable seating. I appreciate premier league coverage has more attraction for naming rights income but if we want a multi-use stadium that's the only way forward, so let's make the effort to get there, and naming rights money would seem a good way of getting deal done with little use of public funds

    It's also pointless saying Spurs pulling down the stadium was the right idea. That was against the very nature of invited bids, almost guaranteeing they wouldn't get it. West Ham may well have wanted that option but possibly thought submitting a bid that met the criteria was a better idea.

  • Comment number 35.

    @17

    "This summer showed us the value of sports other than football - it should not now subsidise a game dominated by over-paid primadonnas."

    Can you not see the irony in what you've written? Like all the other sheep who were so anxious to laud the Olympic Spirit over football earlier this year you've conveniently overlooked that football remains the only single sport in this country that can sustain a stadium of this size and scope. So carry on calling footballers over-paid primadonnas all you like but think about the reasons why they are 'over-paid' and why TV, other media outlets and business generally are willing to pay so much to be associated with the game.

    Having said all that I agree absolutely that football shouldn't be subsidised in the manner being suggested and if a football club do become the eventual owners or tenants of the stadium they should pay for the privilege from their own coffers. Personally I hope that the stadium can be made a commercial viability through athletic events, NFL, concerts etc. as I can't see West Ham being willing to pay the amounts of money they should to take over occupancy. But if that doesn't turn out to be a commercial reality then maybe we should think a bit more carefully before mindlessly berating the ONLY sport in this country that could consistently fill a stadium of this size.

  • Comment number 36.

    Some interesting points raised here although most of them are not without unintended irony. As someone who remembers a time when you could reach out from the stands at Upton Park and touch a player taking a throw-in, I'm amused that such a debate about a running track is raging. The atmosphere at the 'revamped' UP is already devoid of much atmosphere and on one side of the Boleyn you could already put a Long Jump pit in!

    The stadium is in the Borough of West Ham and I'm not even going to waste time discussing the Spurs bid to turn London upside down let alone generously offer to knock everything down! Orient claims are just a side-show; we've co-existed for the best part of a century and there's no reason for that to change.

    I'm in the rare position of being able to play Devil's Advocate here too, as a Hammer's fan, working in the OS for most of the summer I fell in love with the place and thought the structure had the best atmosphere and acoustics of any stadium I've been in.

    Let's be clear about this; West Ham have always supported the legacy implications of the OS and I can't understand why anyone here is suggesting otherwise. However, if WHU are tenants and not 'owners' then its unfair to suggest, as some have, that the club foot the bill for structual changes. You really can't have it both ways.

    Also there was never any intention to leave the stadium as it was (again, many forget this) and the structure is such that parts of it can be moved away like Lego and rebuilt relatively easy. The top half of the structure can be removed for a lower 25k capacity and whatver can be built above that. I'm of the belief that the OS can be made to look like whatever anyone wants it to be and the ideal answer is West Ham with a multi-purpose stadium that allows usage for Athletics. Funnily enough, what WHU have offered all along!

  • Comment number 37.

    I got so annoyed with the 'It's only West Ham they can't fill Upton Park' argument. The demand for tickets for the Play-off final - when the Hammers took a good chunk of the Blackpool allotment and could have sold thousands more - shows that only the size of the Boleyn Ground is stopping the club getting better attendances.

    More galling than that though is the simple point that no-one is claiming that the club could garner 80,000 spectators! It was NEVER the intention of the legacy for the stadium that it would remain exactly as it is now. It WAS ALWAYS GOING TO HAVE THE CAPACITY REDUCED regardless of what happened to it.

    Football is the only answer to filling a stadium with enough people to keep it viable every week and have the option of having a facility big enough to bid and win things like the World Athletics Championships. Yes, it may cost money but we will get that back over decades. Can no-one see that the arguments being put forward now are exactly the same as those made by people before the summer about the Olympics; exactly the same as those expounded about the Dome. And look how wrong they were! Stop dithering - there is only one option.

 

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