Sorry for punting tonight, but many moons ago I started to write up a piece about the Olympics as the ultimate modern White Elephant. You know, cities and countries fight tooth and nail to win the right to host these events and it almost inevitably leaves them deep in red ink. I find it very hard to believe, for example, that Russia turned a profit on the reported $51 billion they spent on Sochi.

Wherever the Olympics go, they leave behind massive debt and modern ruins. The elaborate "Bird's Nest" stadium from Beijing 2008 is now without a tenant; a handful of tourists per day pay a pittance to ride a Segway around inside it. The folks over at Sociological Images (which you should read regularly, by the way) have a good write up with links and photo galleries of what becomes of the often elaborate facilities cities build at great expense for the Olympics after the games end.

Not surprisingly, it usually involves crumbling concrete and graffiti. Remember when Fox News tried to make it sound like the U.
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S. was going to collapse because Obama didn't convince the IOC to host the 2016 Summer Games in Chicago? Sounds like the city dodged a bullet.

46 thoughts on “DERELICT”

  • Los Angeles 1984 didn't leave behind massive debt and modern ruins.

    On the other hand, Los Angeles 1984 didn't feature a lot of new facilities, either. There were a grand total of 2 (!) new sports facilities built for those Olympics:

    *An aquatics center, built on the USC campus, which remains in use today, and
    *A velodrome which was demolished after 23 years, and replaced mainly because the International Cycling Union changed from 400-meter tracks to 250-meter tracks for international competitions.

    An Olympic host city can save a lot of money by not building new venues for athletic events.

  • I'm torn because I live sports and kinda like the Olympics (summer more than winter) but yeah, it's a taxpayer funded farce.

    Alex Pareene suggested we just build two permanent sites for the thing and be done with the fiasco of IOC officials getting flown around the glove first class for shrimp cocktails and blowjobs. Seems to be a better idea than most.

  • The Calgary Olympics were the first profitable Olympics and most of the new facilities are still in use today.

  • "Remember when Fox News tried to make it sound like the U.S. was going to collapse because Obama didn't convince the IOC to host the 2016 Summer Games in Chicago? Sounds like the city dodged a bullet."

    But, but… national pride and all that. Where's yours commie! ;)

    When Juan was running things—he was a good pal of Franco fww—there was a criteria for new events to enter the Games. No. 1 being: do girls wear bikinis? Yes! Hey it's in. Thus spankies versus boardies for beach volley ball.

  • When Charles Wheeler was mayor of Kansas City, he pushed for a KC- Saint Louis games, which would have actually been a state wide event, using existing facilities. Saint Louis, predictably, would not touch the idea. Criss-crossing Missouri would not be that much of an issue for people that can afford to attend Olympic games, for most, it's TV only, major league sports are TV only for working-class folks.

  • Chicago was hoping it would work out like LA. They were going to put their Olympic village on an empty Southside lot that once housed a steel mill and is well connected to transit. Maybe it would have worked out, who knows? They usually don't but I guess no point wondering what might have been.

  • They should host the games in Ciudad Juarez where performance-enhancing substances can be used with impunity and competing cartels can bid for sponsoring events. Olimpico cultura.

  • Oh god, the Olympics, one of the three worst things in sports (along with the NCAA and public financing of stadiums). They're such massive money losers for the cities that host them, on every level.

    There's some talk about my current place of residence (the Bay Area) putting in a bid for the next one. It's madness. San Francisco is a global tourist destination, the hotels fill up to 95%+ every year with people wanting to see the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz and visit Napa Valley and dine in all the fancy restaurants and ride the cable cars and all of that. So how does hosting a two week long track meet bring more money into the region? Especially once you've spent a zillion dollars for the event, all the construction, and security?

    Worse, the summer a city hosts the Games often see total economic activity drop – local residents despair of the traffic and security and decide that the games are a good excuse to go visit relatives in some other part of the country (resulting in a net loss of business to neighborhood shops and restaurants), often deciding to rent out their houses to visitors before heading out of town, and lots of other tourists decide to avoid the city that year because they don't want to deal with all the disruption the Olympics brings. Plus, the modern trend is for big-money sponsors to create "pop up stores" in the Olympic area, siphoning tourist dollars into their pockets and away from area businesses.

    A complete fucking waste.

  • SiubhanDuinne says:

    Mixed physical legacy here in Atlanta. The Olympic Village (built on the Georgia Tech campus), with almost no additional expense, was transformed into dorms for nearby Georgia State University students. As far as I know, the Olympic swimming pool, also at Tech, is still in use.

    OTOH, the stadium built for opening/closing ceremonies and track and field events was converted after the 1996 Games into Turner Field ("The Ted"), home of the Atlanta Braves. Now, after only two decades, the Braves are pulling up sticks and moving to the Cobb County suburbs, and the Ted will be demolished to make room for new development downtown. That's not really an Olympics legacy horror story, though, so much as it is local government greed and shortsightedness.

    #notacobbcountyfan #atlantabravesshouldstayinatlanta

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I was very happy that NY/NJ didn't get the Olympics.

    While I live upstate, and would have been minimally affected, I've lived a long time in NY City, and I can't imagine the "TRAFFIC-GEDDON!!!!!!!" that the area would have gone through.

    Some of the already busiest and most gridlocked roads in the world, in Long Island, the 5 Boroughs, and NE NJ, would have been virtual parking lots – extending workers work-commute time by hours in each direction, each way.

    And what would having the Olympics there have accomplished?
    It's not like we need to bring in rich foreigner visitors to introduce them to NY City, and all that it has to offer – THEY COME HERE NOW!!! AND THEY LIVE HERE NOW!!!!!!!!

    That, and I don't know too many people who could have afforded to go to any events – certainly, not me.

    So – WHEW!!!!!!!!!!

    Btw – I agree with the "Two-State" Olympic solution.
    Have the permanent Summer games in Greece, and have the Winter ones either somewhere in Europe – preferably, one of the Scandinavian nations – or Canada, or Japan.

  • The last report I heard about Montreal's Olympic stadium is that although it's paid off, the city and province are in court arguing about which of them has to pay to maintain it. I attended graduate school in Montreal and watched a couple of Expos games in 2003. 4000 fans in a 60 000 seat stadium is depressing and surreal, but my picture with Youppi! is priceless.

  • If I remember correctly, Chicago wanted to build a temporary structure for the Opening/ Closing Ceremonies in Jackson Park. The IOC did not like that. Had Chicago offered to tear down a brand new Soldier Field and replace it with something bigger, the IOC would have looked at Chicago more favorably. The IOC seems to enjoy leaving abandoned buildings in its wake.

    A lot of the Sochi money went towards infrastructure (beside the $ that got skimmed), I hope that they get some long run benefit.

  • They won't get much benefit in Sochi at all- only the rich elite. See for years now, many Russians on average Moscow salaries could afford all-inclusive vacations on the Sinai peninsula or in Turkey at least twice a year. Yet those same people had no chance at having a vacation in Sochi.

    By contrast they spent a lot preparing Qazan for the Universiade in 2013, and while I didn't get much of a chance to look around while I was there(post-Universiade, that is), you could see some noticeable changes. For one thing the train station now had a sort of covered terminal. Qazan is exactly the kind of city that could actually be a worthy investment for the kind of money they spent in Sochi, because it already is one of the richest cities in Russia and if they actually invested more into it, more people would move there instead of to Moscow. Hell it would be great if people migrated out of Moscow to that city. The main problem in Russia is that so much of the wealth is concentrated in Moscow and it's the only place for most people to earn a decent salary with any hope of social mobility- or emigration.

  • Jacquilynne says:

    I long for Toronto to get an Olympics, because I long for Toronto to get some new subways and anything other than more condos on our waterfront, and I think the Olympics is the only way we'll ever get either. We could also use more large public pools, and hosting the summer games would almost certainly bring that.

    I do think it should be a big part of the bid consideration to look for cities that already have many of the venues, as well as for for host cities to explain how the venues will be used after the Olympics. There should be demonstrated demand for the type of facility they're building in the city or a redevelopment plan.

    Vancouver's done a pretty good job re-using their venues, but, of course, Winter games require quite a lot fewer venues in the first place and other than the sliding tracks, most of them basically require a sheet of ice and a roof.

  • Xecky Gilchrist says:

    As far as I know, Salt Lake City hasn't been too badly affected by the Olympics. They were also used as an excuse to do an overhaul of our crumbling highways and build a light rail system, both of which have been beneficial. Not sure about the communities up in the hills where all the actual skiing and stuff happened.

  • Xecky Gilchrist says:

    … but I was originally opposed to the light rail development they did for it because I assumed it was going to be a piece-of-shit Olympic boondoggle, just like the ones the post describes. I'm happy I was wrong, because the white elephant fiasco is almost always exactly what happens.

  • I have a vivid memory of the first day I was in Tokyo four or five years ago. All day I'd been completely overwhelmed with the utterly staggering numbers of people who were just EVERYWHERE. Seriously, it was more teeming masses of people than I'd ever seen, and I grew up a few blocks from Times Square. After a few hours of walking I suddenly found myself in the first empty place I'd seen all day – a shady park next to some kind of big university-looking building. I asked my local-bred friend where we were, and he said "It's the 1964 Olympic Stadium."

  • To go way back, in 1904 Saint Louis hosted both the Olympics and the World's Fair (as memorialized in Meet Me in Saint Louis). Virtually all the structures were designed to be temporary, and were torn down as soon as the events were over. What's left is the grounds themselves (now Forest Park one of the largest urban parks in the world), the Palace of Fine Arts (now the art museum), the opening ceremony Pavillion (popular for weddings), and a couple buildings at Washington University, whose campus abuts the park.

  • D.N. Nation says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: I'm mixed on the Braves moving. As someone who lives about 10 minutes away from the Ted, I love having it there. I'm one of the few who can actually easily MARTA to it. I love the view of the skyline, I love tailgating with friends in the squatter lots.

    That said, the Ted does absolutely nothing for the neighborhoods immediately around it. No one who goes to games actually spends money in the surrounding area, unless you're counting the squatter lots and the pop-up tent stores. And you can't run a local economy on just that. These people don't need a baseball stadium; they need a grocery store. A nice park. Better connection to transit. Etc.

    So yeah, I hate that the Braves are hitting the road, and I *really* hate that they're moving to freaking Kobb Kounty, but if those geniuses want to saddle their taxpayers with a white elephant while the county school system goes to pot, welp.

  • Leo Artunian says:

    Adding to what Sam240 said in the first post, Los Angeles benefited from the 1932 Summer Games by gaining a stadium, an arena, and a major east-west thoroughfare (Olympic Boulevard). "Olympic" always conjured up positive images while I was growing up in L.A.

  • While the '84 LA games may have been a financial success, they were a social disaster for us. The brutal (and racist) LAPD enforcement mechanisms that were put into place during those games led to all the problems with police brutality we have today in the Southland.

    Gates kept most of South Central under lockdown for the entire games, and judges used forgotten anti-assembly laws to lock up hundreds of black youths, most of whom were never charged with a crime.

    When the games were over, we were locked into the "we can't get rid of it, because we'll be blamed if something goes wrong" trap, and we've lived with this monster ever since.

  • There's a group angling for Boston to get the Summer games in 2024. It's pretty obviously a terrible idea, but if they spend $50 billion on transit, I'd put up with a white elephant stadium.

  • Anyone claiming that Sochi made money is a liar. It was reportedly the most expensive Olympic build ever, attendance was low and there was virtually no nightlife in the Olympic village itself.

    Everything but the ski area infrastructure itself (Western made lifts after all) will be unused and derelict. Only Russians who could not go abroad visited Sochi before the Olympics. There is no reason to believe that this will change. And with the Soviet Un, er, um, I mean with Russia's invasion of the Crimea, just up the coast, you've sealed the area's fate and it's deserved return to obscurity.

  • Modest proposal: Stop bidding out the Olympics. Have them in a limited number of cities that already have the facilities and rotate them. If you had 8 cities, that would make it 32 years before you repeat any of the locations. Use Montreal again, use Salt Lake City again, etc. I know that won't allow the Olympic committee to line their pockets with bribes, but it would make the event at least somewhat sustainable (in an economic and environmental sense).

  • Who would claim Sochi made money? I thought the purpose was to line the pockets of the friends / allies of the bidder with fat contracts paid for from the public purse. Olympics = public money becoming private profits (and let's not even talk about bribes).

    But it's not supposed to be a money maker for the city, is it? Some of the public will get temp work in security or vending, so a pittance trickles back into circulation, but it's hardly a bonanza. Did I miss something?

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    Obama had little to do with Chicago's Olympic bid. That was all on former Mayor Daley—yet another would-be monument to his monstrously engorged ego. And yes, we sure did dodge a bullet.

  • planb247, you make a good point. No one really wanted to go to Atlanta, Beijing or Sochi and the athletes, mostly, couldn't care less as long as the weather conditions and facilities are the best possible (Atlanta, Beijing or Sochi, puleeese). But, as you state, awarding an Olympics, like the World Cup (Dubai, WTF?), is all about who puts on the best show, feeds them the best, supplies the most hookers and gets their children into the best foreign prep schools and universities.

  • I always contended Chicago never really had a chance at the Olympics. Both Chicago politicians and IOC officials expect to be paid bribes. Neither are used to paying the bribes.

  • Atlanta built its Olympic village over the razed Techwood neighborhood, home to racist Tech frat boys and poor people of color. Guess who never got to come back? Atlanta is such a festering bowl of dog snot.

  • I'd agree, except for the cult of austerity. Maybe this is because I'm an easily influenced American, but it feels like you can't get a work project out of the gov't unless it involves national pride/defense. (I think the UK is also an example.) I think we could use more projects even if they're just make-work. I'd like actually worthwhile projects (schools, science, health care, electricity generation/transmission, high-speed rail, fill-in-the-blank), but if the Olympics is the only thing that'll get the gov't to loosen the purse strings, well, something's better than nothing. And hey, maybe we'll see some transit improvements!

  • There's no chance of an Olympics ever generating a subway for a city, since there isn't enough lead time. Olympic sites aren't selected far enough in advance to build a subway.

    An Olympics for Toronto would be the worst thing ever to happen to the city. The 2015 Pan Am games (only partially in Toronto) will be bad enough.

  • We fly into Mirabel airport, which was rushed to completion for the 1976 Olympics. It's located way to the west of Montréal. They built it out in the middle of nowhere and it's a very long drive into the city from there.

    It's a huge airport in terms of real estate, but practically unused. Other than a few cargo flights it looks like something from The Walking Dead. A bit creepy actually.

  • @Major Kong: the zombie love story (don't laugh–it was actually pretty good) was filmed at Mirabel because it looks so creepy already, and they could stage it for the movie without any disruption to regular flights coming in.

  • @MS Says: March 6th, 2014 at 2:47 pm There's no chance of an Olympics ever generating a subway for a city, since there isn't enough lead time. Olympic sites aren't selected far enough in advance to build a subway.

    Not true. The Japanese and S. Koreans can build a 10 mile line in a few years. The first subway line in Seoul was built for the '88 Summer Games.

  • We had the America's Cup in San Francisco last year. Judging solely by my own experience of talking with fellow locals, the cost/benefit would have worked out better if everyone who actually watched it had been given a pound of hashish. Or if they'd built a fleet of zeppelins and played skeet.

    But here in Oakland, we're still paying off the cost of bribing Al Goddamm Davis to bring the Raiders back from Los Angeles. I use the public library more in a month than I've been to the Coliseum in my life, and I was born here. Not really a sports person, in short. I think having the Olympics in Olympia, Greece, and the Winter Olympics in [fill in the blank] makes a lot of sense. Which is probably why it won't happen.

  • Sydney 2000 is widely considered one of the most successful games (hell, many said it was one of the most successful global events ever). Over $2b of public funds, straight out of education, health and other infra (natch). A more complex public/private $4b (read: privatisation in the name of OUR SPORTING HEROES). A huge stadium ( and village) in the middle of nowhere that was empty for years afterwards (only reinvigorated with – natch – more public funds, and still losing money today). Tourism in wider Australia grew faster in the following years than tourism in Sydney…
    I could go on, but I think the pattern is pretty clear.

  • @ Robert

    I am a sports fan and I don't go to games. No way will I shell out hundreds of dollars just to be an extra on a TV that I can watch at home.

    Other than minor league baseball and local college b-ball, I don't expect to attend more than 3-4 games over the (hopefully) next 40-50 years.

  • @eau: what are talking about. There are many great thing about the games.

    For Sydney we could finally go from the bridge to the South without having to go through the CBD—for a price.

    There's bright shiny new bridge—that grinds to a halt because Sydney relies on shitty surface streets for heavy traffic.

    You can finally go to the airport via a train—for an extremely exorbitant price. The rail link is why there is only one bus service to the airport. The M20—aka the bus to no where—wasn't allowed to go to the airport because of some kind of non-competition clause.

    All organised and "sold" to MacBank to administer by their special consultant Bob Carr.

    The clean up around Homebush in principle is a very good thing. Though it's still a case of corporations leaving their waste for the public purse to clean up.

    I much prefer to watch the Geese play at the SCG.

  • Olympics only make sense as geopolitical statements – either "It's the Cold War, look at our mighty nation" (1980 Moscow, 1984 LA), or "We're a big important country now, and we are introducing ourselves to the world" (Beijing 2008, Berlin 1936, Seoul 1988, probably Rio 2016), or "we're sorry about all that war and genocide and want to re-introduce ourselves as a civilized nation, and check it out, we recovered from all the bombing" (Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Munich 1972). Countries spend money on spectacle and propaganda and promoting themselves, and hosting an Olympiad is as good a way to do that as any.

    But the economic and development effects are just terrible.

  • @Xynzee: I stand corrected. :)

    THE GAMES (the show) was perhaps the best thing about the entire enterprise.

  • > Not true. The Japanese and S. Koreans can build a 10 mile line in a few years. The first subway line in Seoul was built for the '88 Summer Games.

    Seoul had over 100 subway stations on four lines in 1988. I don't think they built anything new for the Olympics. I have no idea what you're talking about.

    Subways take time. By definition, they're built in already built-up areas. They're a pain to build. You have to dodge all the existing buildings, subways, water mains, etc. Other sorts of mass transit has a chance of being built quickly; subways are hard.

  • @Robert and Sluggo: I agree with you about the foolishness of going to games. When I was in college, the local baseball team used a post-WWII stadium that was perfectly fine. The cheap seats were $4; my roommates and I used to go all the time because we could take the bus directly there, and a night of baseball, a drink, and a hotdog would run about $10. We often saw whole families enjoying the night out; it cost a bit more than the movies, but was still within reach of the average family.

    A decade later and the multi-millionaire owner held up the city to build a huge glittery Xanadu and the cheap tickets are now around $25, with a cup of soda costing $5 and special deeeluxe haute dogs costing $15. There's no convenient public transportation, so parking will cost you another $30.

    Much less hassle and annoyance to stay home and watch the game on tv, and much cheaper to order a couple of pizza and some wings.

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