LONDON Jan 25 British Olympic chiefs, keen to
secure a lasting future for London's splashy sporting arenas,
hope to find a permanent tenant for its centrepiece stadium by
March - a deal seen as a barometer of the project's financial
Six months since London won worldwide kudos for hosting the
Games, wrangling over the future of the stadium is seen as a
litmus test for Britain's ability to turn the sprawling Olympics
complex into a new and vibrant part of London.
Officials picked English Premier League football club West
Ham as preferred bidders in 2011, but that deal collapsed
because of a legal dispute. West Ham were reinstalled as the
most likely tenant last month but negotiations are not
Speaking to reporters inside the Olympic park - now a ghost
town full of half-dismantled buildings and windswept,
snow-encrusted fields - officials said talks were likely to be
concluded by March.
"We are going though the financial details to get to a point
where a contract could be signed," said Colin Naish, Executive
Director of Infrastructure, Olympic Park Legacy.
"West Ham are our top ranking bidder at the moment. ...
Talks are progressing," he added, pointing at the arena towering
high above the vast and empty Olympic park.
London has prided itself on securing the future of many
other Olympic sites, many of which, including the basketball
arena, are in the process of being dismantled and shipped for
The Games themselves may have been a great success but there
are worries about the future of the Olympic Park and observers
have warned the global financial crisis has exacerbated the risk
of its turning into an expensive white elephant.
The fate of the 60,000-capacity stadium, where athletics
stars like Mo Farah and Usain Bolt captivated the world with
their performances last summer, remains the biggest headache.
The venue is key to London Mayor Boris Johnson's promises to
regenerate and transform London's scruffy, post-industrial East
End into a vibrant and modern part of the capital.
"We certainly don't call them white elephants," said Peter
Tudor, director of venues at the Olympic Park Legacy Company.
"If you are hunting for white elephants you've come to the wrong
Finding a permanent new tenant who can regularly draw big
crowds to the stadium would bring much-needed money and
attention to the area but the process seems to have been going
around in circles for the past couple of years.
The original West Ham deal has collapsed because of legal
wrangling. A new agreement would leave the 430 million pound
($693 million) stadium in public ownership but grant the soccer
club a 99-year lease.
West Ham want to install retractable seating over the
athletics track and add the features of a modern soccer stadium
including executive boxes. The venue would probably not be ready
for use until the 2016-17 season.
The stumbling blocks to any deal are how to divide up the
costs of the conversion, estimated at up to 150 million pounds,
and ensuring taxpayers stand to benefit from any increase in the
value of the club following the move.
But officials are keen to present it as a success story. A
new park, built over the Olympic area, will partially reopen to
the public in July. Concerts, festivals and sporting events are
scheduled to be held to mark the first anniversary of the Games.
Dennis Hone, chief executive of the London Legacy
Development Corporation, said he was optimistic about the
stadium: "It's a 99-year concession so are going to make sure
that that deal will stick ... We are working hard on it."
(Editing by Stephen Addison)