Urban Regeneration On Steroids

Rather than end up as a white elephant or the “ghost of Olympics past” that some people fear, the American expert responsible for the long-term future of the 2012 Olympic stadium and surrounding areas says it will be like “urban regeneration on steroids.”

Andrew Altman, a former deputy mayor of Philadelphia and head of the Anacostia waterfront project in Washington, D.C., is chief executive of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, the organisation in charge of ensuring the post-games success of one of the biggest British regeneration projects in decades.

Maybe the success that AEG has had with the O2 Arena has caused Brits to have a certain trust in the Yanks when it comes to putting London’s white elephants to useful purpose.

“You don’t want to create these facilities at great investment just to sit idle,” Altman says. “This is one of those very rare projects that is going to have a dramatic, transformative effect on a city.” The facility in question is costing $788 million.

The massive task in front of him involves turning a 560-acre slab of rundown industrial sites into the landscaped centerpiece for the 2012 Games.

London is under intense pressure to get things right, witnessed by the amount of roadworks taking place throughout the UK capital.

The cost of staging the Olympics is running at about $13.8 billion, nearly three times the original budget. However, the International Olympic Committee has already cut costs by scrapping the building of one new venue by making more use of Wembley Arena.

The future of the Olympic stadium is uncertain. Allowing the West Ham United soccer team to move in is at odds with the games committee’s pledge to reduce it from 80,000 capacity to 25,000 for track and field events.

The Hammers are fighting to avoid being relegated from the Premier League but the club regularly pulls crowds of more than 25,000. Its new chairmen – former Birmingham City chiefs David Sullivan and David Gold – would likely prefer to see a capacity of about 40,000.

Other potential users include rugby, Twenty20 cricket and even American football and baseball.

The cost of converting the park to its post-games look is estimated to be several hundreds of millions of dollars, but Altman needs to get the job done quickly and get it done well.

Beijing and Athens, which hosted the last two Olympics, have struggled to find much use for the stadium facilities they built.

“We’re not waiting,” Altman said. “We’re finding occupiers now who are going to use these facilities after the games.

“Our goal is to move as seamlessly as possible from after games into legacy so we don’t have any white elephants.”

He compares the transformation of the northeast London site to major US projects such as the creation of New York’s Central Park, the Big Dig in Boston and the redevelopment of San Francisco’s waterfront.

About 10,000 builders are working on the Olympic site, one of the biggest construction sites in Europe.

Apart from the stadium, the development includes a swimming and diving centre, the velodrome, media centre, athletes’ village and what will be one of Europe’s largest urban shopping malls.