West Ham To Take Over Olympic Stadium
12 February 2011, 06:50
West Ham are celebrating a 14-0 victory over Tottenham to make the Olympic Stadium its new home.
All of the 14-strong Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) board voted to make the Hammers its first choice, ahead of Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur, to move into the stadium after London 2012.
Now it faces the hard work of fighting off relegation and plotting the fine details to make the £537 million showpiece stadium in Stratford, east London, a successful multi-use arena for football, athletics, concerts and community use.
West Ham, in a joint bid with Newham Council, intend to convert the 80,000-seater stadium into a 60,000-capacity facility which retains an athletics track. The club plans to move from Upton Park in 2014-15 with a 250-year lease and give a 250-year lease to UK Athletics (UKA).
West Ham vice chairman Karren Brady said: "Not only do we know it can work, we are determined to make it work so that for as long as we are there, they are there."
Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales said: "I think that the numbers stack up, the ideas stack up and I think it is going to work."
An athletics legacy remains crucial and retractable seating for the track could be an option, according to Ms Brady.
"It is one of the things to consider. We have not made a decision," she said.
Keeping a running track has always been a controversial step as critics, including Spurs manager Harry Redknapp and Brazilian legend Pele, claim the distance from the football action could kill the atmosphere.
West Ham plan to spend £95 million converting the stadium after London 2012. This includes £40 million from Newham plus a £35 million conversion pot from the OPLC. Club officials were remaining tight-lipped about the make-up of the remainder.
West Ham would be tenants under a special purpose vehicle arrangement. West Ham and Newham would be shareholders and effectively work to operate the stadium together.
The £40 million loan is to be paid back at commercial rates. The timescale of the payback is flexible.
Sir Robin said there would be "no further drain on the public purse", adding: "In the end we would expect to see a profit for the people of Newham.
"There will be payback to the taxpayer and at the end of the day a stadium will be left that is useful for different sports."
They are looking at the possibility of a season ticket to the stadium that also provides access to cricket and concerts that will also be held there.
When the Olympic Stadium is used as a cricket ground it will become a 73,000-seat venue, according to Sir Robin.
"It can be converted very, very quickly in two or three days," and offers the chance to play international as well Twenty20 cricket, according to Sir Robin.
"Who says it has to be an England game? India versus Pakistan would be an interesting match for this community."
Ms Brady also said the stadium can be converted from an athletics to a football venue overnight.
The amount that could be charged for the coveted naming rights of the venue "is something that would have to go out to market", Ms Brady said.
She insisted West Ham can afford to move from Upton Park to the stadium, even if the club is relegated.
The Hammers' bid obviously "stacks up financially" otherwise the OPLC would not have unanimously backed it, she argued. The OPLC "was absolutely confident that we can deliver this", she said.
"We want to deliver on all the things that we have said. We believe that the stadium works as a multi-purpose venue."
West Ham's success in reaching this stage also means that ministers and London mayor Boris Johnson, who could have been accused of breaking athletics legacy promises to the International Olympic Committee, have been saved huge potential embarrassment.
Tottenham's plans, part of a joint bid with AEG sport and entertainment group, had been to create a football-only stadium without the track and redevelop Crystal Palace for athletics.
The OPLC's decision to make West Ham its preferred bidder still has to be rubber-stamped by the Government and the London Mayor's office but it would be surprising if they did not accept the recommendation.
West Ham will enter detailed negotiations with the OPLC which wants a deal to be struck on the stadium and contracts signed by the end of the financial year.