West Ham United to take over London’s Olympic stadium
English Premier League football club West Ham United are to become the main tenants of London’s Olympic Stadium, it was announced on Friday.
The 80,000 capacity stadium in east London, which hosted the athletics and the ceremonies at last year’s Olympics and Paralympics, will be converted to a 54,000-seater venue in time for the 2016-2017 football season.
The long-term future of the ?429 million ($648-million, 503-million-euro) venue in Stratford was supposed to have been decided before the Games but a series of legal challenges delayed the process.
The deal was secured only after West Ham agreed to increase their own funding of the project by ?5 million, to ?15 million. They will pay around ?2 million a year rent.
“It’s fantastic for everyone at West Ham United that at last all the club’s hard work over the past three years has paid off,” the club’s joint chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold said.
London Mayor Boris Johnson described the announcement as a “truly momentous milestone” and said the deal would defy “the gloomsters who predicted this landmark would become a dusty relic.”
The stadium will have retractable seats around the pitch, which will allow the 2017 World Athletics Championships to take place there as planned.
The deal also opens the way for the stadium to be used as a venue for the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup.
But the fact that the final agreement will see the government contributing an additional ?25 million towards the ?150 million cost of converting the venue has sparked criticism.
Former sports minister Richard Caborn described the deal to lease the stadium to West Ham as “the biggest mistake of the London Olympics”.
Caborn said he had suggested that retractable seating should have been built into the stadium’s original design and adding it now meant extra cost had been added.
“Time and again mistakes are made with Olympic Stadiums and the lessons should be learned for any future similar projects,” Caborn, from the opposition Labour Party, said.
The stadium has not been used since the Paralympics last year but is due to host a strong of rock concerts in July, as well as an international athletics meeting on 26-28 July to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the Olympics.
The Olympic Park is currently closed while it is adapted with the addition of new homes and schools and public parkland.
It is set to open in phases from July and is scheduled to be fully open by early 2014.