West Ham get Olympic Stadium

2011-03-03 17:49

London - West Ham's bid to move into the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 Games was approved by the British government and city officials Thursday, with London's mayor saying the decision ensures the showpiece venue won't become a "dust bowl."

The Premier League club was selected last month as the preferred tenant for the $867m venue, beating a rival bid from Tottenham.

"The government and the Mayor of London have today approved the recommendation of joint bidders West Ham United and the London Borough of Newham for the future use of the Olympic stadium," the Department for Communities and Local Government said in a statement.

The east London club must now enter into contract negotiations with the Olympic Park Legacy Company to finalize terms on a lease for the stadium that is acceptable to the government and Mayor Boris Johnson.

"We are delighted with the progress that has been made and very pleased we have reached this very significant milestone in determining the long-term legacy for the Olympic Park following the Games," Junior Communities Minister Bob Neill said.

West Ham plans to downsize the stadium from 80 000 to 60 000 seats and use it as a multipurpose venue. It will fulfill Britain's promise to retain a running track at the arena.

The Hammers hope to leave their current Upton Park home and move into the Olympic Stadium for the 2013-2014 season.

"In many ways, the hard work starts now," West Ham vice chairwoman Karren Brady said. "The starting gun has been fired and we are off and running. This will be an Olympic Stadium to make everyone proud, a multi-sports, multi-event arena that will be both a spectacular local and global attraction. We will not let anyone down."

The London mayor said the agreement means the stadium will not become a white elephant.

"Just two years ago, it faced the prospect of becoming a dust bowl staging occasional athletics events but now we can look forward to a fantastic multi-use venue at the heart of the community, able to host football and other sports, as well as concerts and events specifically for local people and schools," Johnson said.

Newham Council, the local authority which is bidding jointly with West Ham, will provide a loan of $64m to the club.

West Ham, which is currently in the relegation zone in the Premier League, hopes to stage concerts at the stadium in conjunction with promoter Live Nation Entertainment as well as Twenty20 cricket and American football.

Tottenham had proposed demolishing most of the venue and building a 60 000-seat football-only stadium on the same site, without a running track. That went against pledges made by London organizers during the Olympic bid to leave a lasting athletics legacy at the site.

Leyton Orient, a third-tier football club located near the Olympic Stadium, is threatening to take legal action against the decision to allow West Ham to move into the venue.

Orient chairman Barry Hearn fears the club's ability to attract supporters will suffer because West Ham is offering cut-price tickets to fans to fill the Olympic Stadium.

"It's savage news, very disappointing," Hearn said Thursday. "No one, in or outside the government, has asked one single question about how this will affect Leyton Orient. The news that they've rubber-stamped it without asking anything is staggering to me."

"I think this puts us out of business. We have to take legal action. We have to defend ourselves. I've got to consider both judicial review and legal action against the Premier League."

The Premier League ruled out reviewing its decision to let West Ham move into the stadium.

The league said in a statement that its board felt "it would be unreasonable to prevent either Tottenham Hotspur or West Ham United from moving to the Olympic Site as long as they satisfied all of the relevant criteria stipulated by appropriate Olympic and statutory authorities."

The league claimed Hearn's stance has changed since West Ham was selected as preferred tenant, saying the Orient chairman had previously stated one of the two teams "would inevitably move into the Olympic Stadium while outlining his preference for Tottenham Hotspur."