Touring the cities of Olympics past
Workers clean the steel Bird's Nest National Stadium in Beijing in May 2011. (AP Photo)
Next summer, sports enthusiasts from all over the world will flock to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Like every host city before it, London hopes the Summer Games will bring with them a hefty economic boost by attracting tourists from near and far with money to spend. But what will happen after the Olympic Flame leaves town? Can London continue to profit from its Olympic Village, its massive stadium, its grandiose aquatic centre, and its numerous venues built expressly for this one-of-a-kind sporting event?
That’s the challenge Beijing, the last city to host the Summer Olympics, is still grappling with three years later. Post-Olympic tourism in China’s capital may hold lessons for the next host city.
Beijing National Stadium, commonly called the Bird’s Nest, has had its ups and downs since the 2008 Olympics ended. The largest steel stadium in the world, it was first slated to be used by the Guo’an Football Club. However, the team backed out of the agreement, realizing its games would only fill about one-tenth of the arena’s 91,000 seats. Since then, it has hosted a variety of creative events, including a Puccini opera, a snow-covered theme park, an international equestrian competition, the world’s largest chocolate show, and a record-breaking 60-day tightrope walk. This August, the stadium will host this year’s Italian Super Cup, as it did in 2009.
According to the Straits Times newspaper, the Beijing State-Owned Assets Management Company has said that the giant metal nest is raking in tens of millions of dollars each year from tourism. That pales in comparison, though, to the original $423 million in construction costs, plus the annual $9 million in maintenance costs.
Beijing’s Olympic swim centre, the Water Cube, seems to be faring better. It was converted into the biggest water park in Asia last summer, complete with rides for the kids and a spa for the grown-ups. As for other sporting venues, the Olympic Green Tennis Centre is now used by the Chinese Tennis Association, and several other sports centres are used by universities.
Other cities have had much more difficulty putting Olympic buildings to good use – or any use at all. In Athens, host of the 2004 Games, many Olympic venues have been abandoned. Some have even been vandalized. This picture of a graffiti laden swimming pool is part of a Getty Images slide show by photographer Matt Cardy of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex seven years after the Games.
A few host cities have reconstituted Olympic spaces into public works projects. For example, Lake Placid in New York state, host of the 1980 Winter Olympics, turned its Olympic Village into a men’s prison, as explained in Mental Floss Magazine.
These are a few of the experiences London must take into account as the city develops its post-Olympic plans. The Olympic Park Legacy Company says that the development projects for the 2012 Games are already pumping new economic life into east London’s post-industrial wasteland – and that the city will strive to keep that going long after the Games end next August.
The London 2012 organisers plan to convert the Athletes’ Village into residences, almost half of which may be available to low-income families. Also in the works are new parks, transportation and a school for kids ages 3 to 19.
The Olympic Stadium will likely be used for sporting and cultural events. The West Ham United football club is slated to use the stadium after it’s redeveloped and downsized, to avoid the mistake of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest. The Aquatics Centre is scheduled for community, school and club use, though the excess seating will likely be taken down. The Velodrome cycling track will be converted into VeloPark, which, with the addition of a mountain bike course and road-cycle circuit, will be open for community and club sports. Other athletic facilities such as the Basketball Arena will be taken down completely, though leftover parts may be recycled and reused elsewhere.
While most projects will require additional development, certain structures and venues will remain largely the same, according to Legacy Company press manager Sarita Bhatia. The ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower, a huge public art piece being built in the Olympic Park by sculpture Anish Kapoor, will probably remain open to the public as is. Both during and after the Games, she said, “Tourists can go up and see panoramic views of the Park.” The Olympic Park Legacy Company has released time-lapse footage of the construction of Orbit, also nicknamed the “Hubble Bubble” tower.
It does seem as though London has well laid plans. But, then again, so have most host cities. The Visit Britain tourism board is cautiously hopeful. “It’s too early to make that prediction,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Clark, “but we’re confident that London will smartly repurpose the venues once the Games have come to a close.”
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