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London confident of avoiding Games curse

August 2, 2012

LONDON: London organisers are confident future planning for 2012 Games venues and the Olympic Park will stop the curse that has plagued other host cities from infecting Britain’s capital.

Keith Mills, deputy chairman of organising committee LOCOG, said the mistakes made by other cities, left with huge bills and deserted buildings after hosting Olympics, were analysed thoroughly as London prepared its bid.

He added that one of LOCOG’s main aims was to ensure the Olympics had a lasting benefit for the capital so they focused on regenerating east London, one of the poorest parts of the city.

“The Olympic movement needs to be more than a great big sports competition. It has enormous power to do good,” Mills told a conference.

“We were very careful to focus on what London needs and only build permanent venues that were required.”

The excitement of winning a bid to host a Games and desire to do well has made the event more and more expensive to host, prompting economists to refer to the ‘Olympic Curse’ as cities spend more than the value of the showpiece occasion.

Research from Oxford University’s Said Business School found on average host cities overspent by 179 percent – and London was on course to be the most over-budget Games in 16 years.

London’s proposed budget has surged from 2.3 billion pounds (US$3.6 billion) at the time of winning its bid in 2005 to 9.3 billion pounds (US$14 billion) which Mills put down to costs for land acquisition and regenerating the Olympic Park.

But he said spending was targeted to ensure the Games left a legacy for the city and a return on investment.

Buildings to stay

Mills added London did not have a 50-metre pool before the Games so it made sense to build an aquatic centre.

The capital also did not have a low-cost indoor arena for cyclists and had an ageing, small athletics facility at Crystal Palace so it made sense to build two new venues for those sports.

“But everything else being used was an existing venue like Wembley Stadium or Wimbledon or we have built temporary venues like Horse Guards Parade for the beach volleyball,” he said.

“I think that model has worked well. Is it perfect? Probably not but it’s the closest model that works that we have found.”

The mushrooming of temporary facilities across London has prompted some commentators to dub the 2012 Games ‘The Lego Olympics’ with these buildings due to be dismantled.

After the Paralympics finish on Sept. 9, the keys to the Olympic Park – home of nine of 34 sporting venues including the stadium, velodrome and aquatic centre – will be handed over to the London Legacy Development Corp (LLDC).

The LLDC is responsible for the long-term planning, development and maintenance of the site and has outlined a 300 million pounds (US$470 million) two-year transformation programme.

This scheme will see the site become the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with one section a leafy, green park and the rest used for residential and business purposes.

Scott MacLeod, LLDC’s interim director of commercial marketing, said there were plans for all Olympic venues, a massive shopping centre has already been built next door, and added the athletes village was being turned into apartments.

He said the local community were expected to use the stadium for track and field events but LLDC has been seeking a longer term tenant for when the park reopens.

MacLeod also said tenants had to be found before the business development could proceed and they were still looking for a developer to build other residential complexes on site.

“But the legacy issues we have seen with past Olympics have been different because their sites were out of the cities but this park is right there in London,” he explained.

“The park really is a catalyst for London to grow east.”

-Reuters


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