Bird's Nest in battle to avoid white elephant tag

Mon Mar 16, 2009 7:38am EDT
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By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING (Reuters) - Six months after 91,000 people packed the Bird's Nest to watch the closing ceremony of the Paralympics bring down the curtain on Beijing's Olympic Summer, its owners are struggling to find a role for the iconic arena.

There are no shortage of examples of Olympic hosts building vast stadiums that are rarely used after the Games and with a price tag of over $500 million, the National Stadium always had the potential to become the mother of all white elephants.

"Most stadiums in the world run in normal methods are not able to make profit," Zhang Hengli, deputy general manager of the CITIC Consortium Stadium Operation Company, told Reuters.

"But China is different. Firstly we have a large population. The other thing is the stadiums in Beijing are mostly located in busy areas so we can guarantee a certain flow of people, which is a foundation of our profit.

"I believe in good economic conditions, the venue in Beijing could quite possibly make a profit."

Economic conditions may not be good, but Zhang said revenue from the 20 to 30,000 tourists currently visiting the site every day could cover the 70 million yuan ($10.24 million) maintenance costs and the 80 to 90 million yuan a year in interest payments.

Zhang recognized, though, that as potent as the memories of the exploits of sprinter Usain Bolt and the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies were, they will eventually fade.

"The Olympics ... endowed the stadium with rich cultural meaning, but such meanings will be expiring with the next Olympics coming up," Zhang said.   Continued...

<p>Security guards stand at a gate leading into the Bird's Nest National Stadium in Beijing, March 13, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray</p>