So, West Ham United are to finally moving into the Olympic Stadium?
It would appear so. The assurance from the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is that it will be all over by Christmas and while that is a promise that is historically bandied around with scant regard for reality, West Ham are set to be named preferred bidder for the stadium in Stratford after next week’s board meeting of the London Legacy Development Corporation. There is, of course, a but – this is a process that has been littered with buts: before the deal is done, final negotiations over the cost of transforming what was built as a summer athletics venue into a one fit for all seasons and football in particular have to be settled once and for all.
There is optimism that agreement will be reached over the gap between what West Ham are prepared to pay towards conversion and how much public money the LLDC, which is overseen by the mayor of London and has government involvement too, are prepared to spend. A total of £38m was set aside in the original Olympic budget to pay for conversion but to carry out the major upgrade West Ham require – with seats installed over the running track like the Stade de France and a new roof – will demand at least £160m.
So who pays the difference?
The gap now stands at a reported £20m having been narrowed by adding more money from the Olympic Park’s regeneration budget, an increased input of close to £70m from Newham Council, the local authority, and the promise of more from Johnson – if West Ham up their offer of £15m by another £10m
West Ham’s offer was part of a package that includes paying an annual rent of £2.5m (inflation linked) over the 99-year-lease. The club say that is in effect worth £10m a year when income from a share of naming rights and catering is added.
We have been here before – who’s to say it will not all fall apart again?
There is the possibility agreement will not be reached by Tuesday’s LLDC board meeting. The board itself is not universally behind West Ham’s bid, although it is the one favoured by Johnson. There are those who believe it makes more sense to get on with converting the stadium without West Ham, and so without the need for a new roof and retractable seats. It would still see 20,000 of the 80,000 seats removed but would be considerably cheaper and see the stadium up and running by 2014. That though would leave it without an anchor tenant and it is predicted that would create a likely annual loss of £2m – a profit is forecast with a Premier League football club in tow.
There is growing frustration over the “Stratford farce”, as one leading figure branded it, and with suggestions the stadium may not be ready to host sport again until 2016 – after the opening ceremony for the next Olympic Games and after Johnson’s mayoralty is done – there is a desire among key players, in particular the mayor himself, to get things moving.
Part of the reason for the snail’s pace progress – it was supposed to have all been sorted pre-Games – is to insure the process is legally watertight. West Ham were originally granted the tenancy ahead of Tottenham Hotspur last year only for legal challenges to propel the government into restarting it all over again.
Are they any realistic alternatives to West Ham remaining?
There are other bidders being considered, a football business school, Leyton Orient and a consortium looking to stage Formula One there, but none are capable of taking on the stadium on their own. The anti-West Ham camp see a multi-use stadium that will host athletics in the summer – as it will with West Ham – and concerts and one-off sporting occasions throughout the year. That does not appear to make long-term financial sense and would be a drain on the public purse.
If West Ham are chosen when will we see football in the ground – or any sport?
Construction on the stadium will begin next summer – that is if this predicted deal is struck and tenders go out in January – with the hope it would take a year to complete.
The best-case scenario would see West Ham move in for the start of the 2015/16 season – and with rugby World Cup games to host as well. The worst-case would be 2016/17. There is one certainty – the stadium will be ready to host the 2017 world athletics championships.