London soccer club West Ham United will make the Olympic Stadium their new home from 2016, ensuring that the $650 million venue remains a lasting feature of the city’s sporting landscape.
The stadium, the centerpiece of last year’s Olympics, will have a 54,000 capacity once it is converted for use by the Premier League club, who have been granted a 99-year lease.
“Through this deal with West Ham United FC, we are defying the gloomsters who predicted this landmark would become a dusty relic,” said London mayor Boris Johnson.
Finding a tenant who can regularly draw big crowds to a once forgotten corner of east London was seen as vital to ensuring the area gets lasting benefits from the billions of pounds invested in it before the Games.
West Ham were named in December as the preferred bidder to move in but Johnson warned that a ‘Plan B’ was being developed in case financial terms could not be agreed.
“Through this deal with West Ham United FC, we are defying the gloomsters who predicted this landmark would become a dusty relic”
London mayor Boris Johnson
One of the stumbling blocks to a deal had been who would pay for the stadium to be rebuilt for soccer.
West Ham will contribute 23 million dollars to conversion costs, with the local council paying 60 million dollars. The government has agreed to pay up to 38 million dollars if more funding is needed for the work.
The London Legacy Development Corporation, the body responsible for the stadium, has also ensured that the taxpayer benefits from any increase in value of the club if owners David Gold and David Sullivan were to decide to sell it within the next 10 years.
Gold and Sullivan said on Friday they had no plans to sell the club.
The stadium stands empty at the moment but will host the world’s top athletes at a meeting at the end of July to mark the first anniversary of the London Olympics.
London authorities also plan a series of concerts over the summer to bring the stadium back to life and show that it would not be reliant solely on soccer for its future.
The club wants to add a new roof to keep fans dry during the winter, executive boxes and retractable seating to go over the running track to let supporters get close to the action.
The running track will remain and the stadium will host the 2017 world athletics championships.
West Ham have played at the Boleyn Ground, better known as Upton Park, in east London since 1904. Around three miles from the Olympic site, the ground is big on atmosphere but can only hold about 35,000 fans.