AEG Pushes Dirt At Last

It may be happening about three years later than company president Tim Leiweke predicted, but AEG is finally going to start building a new arena in Berlin.

His guess that “we will probably be pushing dirt in Berlin sometime in the summer of 2003” turned out to be wide of the mark. But after announcing a strategic alliance with O2 telecommunications group, it seems AEG will have construction under way by the end of this year.

Even three years overdue, the news is confirmation that AEG has finally won the battle to build a new arena in the German capital.

More than four years ago, and around the time that Leiweke made the 2003 prediction in a Pollstar interview, it was far from clear who would build the city’s new arena or even how many there would be.

It seemed as if Harry Harkimo’s Helsinki-based Jokerit HC Arena Holding Oy (JHC) had the lead on AEG.

The Finnish company, which had just opened its new Colorline Arena in Hamburg, had the local Spandau council’s provisional go-ahead – the equivalent of outline planning permission – to develop what would have been an 18,000-capacity “Siemensstadt.”

JHC had bought the 100,000-square-metre site from Siemens and it had also been pretty well agreed that the electronics giant would get the naming rights to the new building.

“We’re still negotiating, but the project should soon be operating under a name like Siemens Arena,” Dieter Hortreiter from the company’s property management department told Berliner Zeitung.

Meanwhile, AEG’s proposed development across the city at Friedrichshain was bogged down with planning disputes involving local authorities and some sitting tenants.

What made the battle more intriguing was that the rivalry to build the arena was matched by the rivalry to dominate ice hockey.

What set it on a knife edge was that it was far from certain if Berlin authorities would ultimately sanction the building of two arenas.

Harkimo, who has a major share of Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena and the ice hockey team that plays there, was reported to be in discussion with the Berlin Capitals with a view to bring the team to the new venue.

Anschutz, with ice hockey interests that included London Knights (which used to play at Docklands), Germany’s Munich Barons, HC Prague in the Czech Republic and Switzerland’s Geneva Eagles, also has his own Berlin Eisbarens. If his development got the go-ahead, the arena would become the team’s new home.

When it became clear the city fathers were likely to settle for having just one new arena, JHC decided the risk was too great and pulled out.

“In the end, it was decided that one arena was enough and we pulled out because we couldn’t be sure it would be ours. Of course, it cost money but sometimes that happens in business. The decision not to go ahead was sensible risk management,” JHC’s Mika Sulin told Pollstar at the time.

“We said we will build the arena when we are certain that the company that will give our arena its name, its face, and its spirit, is a partner who will work with us to transform a dream into a specific vision and, from there, a reality. O2 Germany is this partner,” Leiweke said in a statement, although a major part of the three-year delay was down to the initial problems with the site.

O2 World, as the new arena will be called, is being built on land between the Ostbahnhof railway station, the Oberbaumbrücke bridge across the River Spree, and Mühlenstrasse.

It’s expected to open its doors to the public in 2008.

Its most impressive feature will be the 1,800-meter LED wall that will turn one outer facade into a gigantic video screen. It’s reported that it will be even bigger than any of the advertising spaces at New York’s Times Square.

The cost of the 60,000-square-meter, 18,000-capacity arena is estimated at close to euro 150 million (US$189.25 million).

– John Gammon