Friday, February 6, 2009

White Elephants at the Olympics

If you have ever watched the Olympics (especially the summer games) you have probably been amazed at the unique and innovative architectural designs that they produce. Two perfect examples of this phenomenon are the Olympic stadiums at the last two summer games in Beijing and Athens.

Although no one would argue that these stadiums are truly remarkable and served as a spectacular site for the Olympics, the question is what happens to these stadiums after the Olympics?

A recent article from Indiana State University begins to address some of the issues. The main point is not only did these structures cost millions to create, but they leave behind gigantic 80,000+ stadiums that often aren't conducive to hosting any other 'lower' profile events. Besides that point, to keep a structure like this pristine involves costly and meticulous maintenance that usually isn't worth the cost.

Smart planning can help alleviate some of these problems. A couple good examples of this are the Atlanta (1996) and LA (1984) Olympics. In Atlanta, their local baseball team, the Braves, got a new home once the Olympics left town. In LA, they actually renovated an existing stadium to accommodate the 1984 Olympics. Today it's the setting for USC football, other various events and a proposed home of an NFL franchise (if one ever returns to LA).

From those two examples it's pretty clear that if you can get a permanent resident for the stadium, you could solve this problem. However, the Chicago 2016 bid proposes a new model to avoid this 'White Elephant' conundrum. Chicago plans to build a temporary Olympic stadium that will eventually be condensed into a 10,000 seat amphitheater for concerts and other events. The idea is that it would produce a venue that's aligned with community needs as opposed to a huge permanent structure that isn't needed (aka a 'white elephant').

Although this approach has garnered praise from a variety of sources (including the president of the IOC), it does pose one problem; The IOC encourages and grades applicant cities on the legacy the games leave behind. Would this approach minimize the Olympic legacy if Chicago is awarded the 2016 games?

We will leave that question for the IOC to ponder, but in the mean time it's refreshing to know that Chicago most likely won't have to deal with a new 'White Elephant' within the city limits.

No comments: