It's costing half a billion pounds to erect London's Olympic Stadium. For a couple of fortnights in 2012 it'll be the focus of global attention, packed out with spectators watching world-class athletes compete. But what happens next is yet to be decided. Either West Ham or Tottenham Hotspur will move out of their current ground and make Stratford their home. We'll know soon who the lucky team is. But if Tottenham Hotspur get their way, the entire £537m structure will be ripped down so that they can start again. And that can't be right.
When the design for the Olympic stadium was announced in 2007, the most important word was 'sustainability'. An athletics legacy had been promised to the IOC, so the entire structure would need to be scaled down after the Games. No football takeover was envisaged. The organisers designed an arena with a detachable top, which meant eighty thousand spectators during the Olympics could be slimmed down to twenty-five thousand afterwards. There'd be no long-term infrastructure inside the stadium - all the food, bars and toilets would be in temporary pods outside. This would be no over-sized white elephant come 2013, that was the plan.
And here we are in 2011 with two legacy bids on the table, both from major football clubs. West Ham's proposal keeps the running track, so that both football and athletics can still take place. They've teamed up with Newham Council, for added community bonus points, and plan to sell off their existing Boleyn Ground for housing. That extra cash would allow the restructuring the top of the Olympic bowl to build those all-important urinals, private boxes and burger stalls. West Ham's is the socially responsible option, the community bid that keeps all past promises. OK, so the team's currently floundering at the foot of the Premiership and look to be headed for Championship oblivion, but a lot can change over three seasons and they might fill sixty thousand seats with ease.
Then there's Tottenham, who launched themselves late into the bidding war with what some saw as a pre-emptive strike. Bosses had been trying to redevelop White Hart Lane for years, without success, so expressing an interest in the Stratford site opened up another option. Permission back in N17 has since been granted, but Tottenham's fixation on E15 has grown stronger ever since. They've teamed up with entertainment company AEG, who also run the O2, with plans for a combined football/entertainment venue. Expect Britney concerts as well as local derbies, and absolutely no athletics at all. An eight lane track would leave spectators too far from from the pitch, they argue, so plan instead to pump money into the existing Crystal Palace Stadium to provide an athletics legacy elsewhere.
A big club like Spurs would guarantee a rock solid future for the Olympic Stadium site, but not for the stadium itself. That would be entirely demolished, apart from some of the undercroft beneath, and a brand new full-capacity arena built instead. Tottenham and AEG only want the infrastructure improvements and transport connections, it seems, plus a fresh slate on which to start again. Their replacement would no doubt end up with some ghastly sponsored name, like the Vodafone Arena or the Carphone Warehouse, and would completely erase all memory of the 2012 stadium from the map.
Whichever club's successful, their supporters are going to have to get used to relocation. For Hammers fans that'd be a three mile shift - though much nearer to West Ham station and staying within the old "West Ham" borough which gave the team its name. Tottenham would have to move five miles, well away from their spiritual home, and that's left many supporters veryangryindeed. "No to Stratford Hotspur!" they demand, even if that means losing out on improved facilities and a richer club.
Will we get West Ham and athletics, or will we get Tottenham and Take That? The Olympic Park Legacy Company are due to announce their choice before the end of the month. All that we can guarantee when the final decision's announced is that the stadium's architects, however well briefed, guessed wrongly what kind of legacy venue would be required. Political change and economic reality have shifted priorities, and might well result in half a billion pounds worth of taxpayers money being unceremoniously demolished. My heart's with the Hammers, but my head fears the sledgehammer option instead.