While hosting the Olympic Games has traditionally been viewed as source of high honor and national pride, the reality is most host cities are left with enormous debt and financial turmoil following the blitz of construction required to ready any urban metropolis for the global sporting stage. The 1976 Montreal Olympics, for example, had budgeted a $128 million stadium to host the Games – but the complex never fully opened, and was eventually scrapped despite a spiraling price tag of over $1.4 billion. Even the recent Athens games have seen many of the structures built for the games remain unused over eight years later.
When Beijing entered a bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, however, officials were determined to buck the trend. With meticulous civic planning and a well-executed plan for post-Olympic operations, Beijing stands to break even on nearly all of the arenas constructed for the event, despite a staggering total expenditure of nearly $42 billion – over ten times that of the previous Athens Games. This month, we explore how the Chinese capital pulled off such a successful transition.
Much of the funds from the $42 billion figure were spent on readying Beijing’s infrastructure for the influx of athletes, media, and visitors – investments that were already overdue in one of the world’s fastest growing cities. Subway expansion, highway renovations, water and electrical grid improvements and more were all part of the massive effort to modernize much of the downtown area to meet the strain of tens of thousands of revelers.
Beijing’s population of more than 15 million had, until the Games, relied upon its aging Worker’s Stadium to house major events, which had a modest 40,000 seat capacity and 50’s era amenities. With this in mind, Beijing officials spared no expense in the creation of the iconic ‘Bird’s Nest’ National Stadium, designed by Herzog & De Meuron Architekten AG. This incredible 91,000 seat facility has been booked solid since the closing of the Games as various sporting and civic organizations from all over the region vie for reservations.
Other successful transitions include the press and broadcasting center, which hosted over 21,000 journalists during the Games. Nowadays, the facility has become the new China National Convention Center, and hosts a variety of popular shopping and entertainment sites. The boating facilities in Qingdao have also been successfully converted into public marinas and training grounds for future government sailors. Even the basketball facility was handed off to the leading sports firm AEG, and is now the hallmark venue for the most important games and concert productions in China.
Probably the most profitable transition, though, was the Athletes Village. While home to over 16,000 athletes during the Games, the residences were converted and sold as luxury apartments, bringing in as much as $4,500 per square meter. Rare area amenities such as close restaurants, laundry services, vast open parks, and others guaranteed high demand.
Greening the Games
One of Beijing’s goals in the Games was to host the greenest Olympics on record, leading officials to invest billions in energy-efficiency initiatives and sustainable design for the various building projects. The National Aquatics Center, for example, utilized large plastic ‘bubbles’ on its exterior as insulation, allowing for a 30 percent reduction in heating needs for the pools and rest of the facility, while also harvesting enough rainwater to meet flushing and irrigation needs.
Though costlier in the short-term, these energy savings have accrued over the years to help round out profitability margins for most of the venues associated with the Games, and have attracted third parties looking to take over the state-of-the-art facilities. With smart planning, eco-conscious design, and thoughtful execution, the planners for the Beijing 2008 games ensured their city’s Olympic legacy would extend beyond the three week television highlights and help better prepare the capital to compete as a world-class urban center.