As decision time looms, the unpalatable possibility of an Olympic Stadium white elephant is becoming ever more likely. And the conclusion may have to be drawn that athletics and the stadium do not stack up as a viable business.
What to do with the 80,000-seater stadium - comprising 25,000 permanent seats and 55,000 temporary ones - is a problem officials have been toying with for years.
In February 2007, then culture secretary Tessa Jowell and then London mayor Ken Livingstone ended discussions with West Ham FC over its possible move to the Olympic Stadium in legacy.
The discussions and then subsequent decision to make it a 25,000-seater athletics venue added delays to work on the stadium.
But still another U-turn ensued when talks with London football clubs restarted early last year. It came as little surprise when the London Assembly soon branded the process “flawed”.
And now, despite all the early days legacy commitment to athletics - and all the indecision - the most viable options now being debated will likely see the stadium welcome in a major football club after the Games.
The past weeks have seen an increasingly heated public debate between shortlisted competitors Tottenham Hotspur/AEG and West Ham United/Newham Council.
The tension is set to rise further with the Olympic Park Legacy Company delaying its decision over who will win until possibly as late as April (see News).
Tottenham Hotspur’s is the most radical proposal - it plans to knock down the £537M venue and move in plans for a new stadium it originally commissioned for its Northumberland Development Project, sited next to its existing White Hart Lane stadium.
In a nod to legacy requirements it would upgrade the Crystal Palace athletics stadium in south London.
“When designing a stadium you want to get fans as close as possible to the action but it’s difficult when you have 80,000 people,”
The club cites cheaper construction costs for its plan to move its NEWS Olympic stadium and athletics simply don’t mix design into the Olympic Park. Although press reports that it would yeild a £200M saving - at £250M instead of £450M - seem a little wild.
There are savings - namely from using a site not requiring remediation and being able to continue using White Hart Lane until it is built.
“If it’s a fully remediated site then it makes a lot of sense,” says EC Harris head of residential, regeneration and growth Richard Jones.
“When you come out the ground then you’ve got control.”
It is much riskier to develop and remediate the lesser understood Northumberland Park site. “There are three things to look out for - water, gas and pollutants,” says Jones.
The club could also avoid paying section 106 costs, where a developer makes a financial contribution to offset the impact of the development on the community. This will be between £15M and £16M at the White Hart Lane site.
However, if Tottenham is selected it may not simply be a case of knocking it down and starting again.
Piling has been installed beneath key loading points to support the exisiting structure. A footprint change could mean installing more piles and new gas protection measures while altering the foundation slab.
West Ham’s multi-purpose stadium proposal, which has the backing of Newham Council and UK Athletics, is friendlier to the legacy commitment but it too has a primary focus on football and would require substantial changes
that are understood to be costing £100M.
This money would be spent installing a new roof, changing seating to 60,000, and creating appropriate hospitality and customer facilities within the stadium - the current stadium has all its facilities in pods outside the main structure.
However, it has been criticised because the mix of athletics and football usage creates a venue that fails to satisfy either.
“When designing a stadium you want to get fans as close as possible to the action but it’s difficult when you have 80,000 people,” says Miller Partnership partner and architect Robert Kennedy.
One big veto to all football-led options may yet come from the public relations machine. London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe made clear his opposition this week.
Debate this further at NCE’s new London 2012 forum.