Will London's Olympics Leave a Lasting Legacy?

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Aerial view of Wimbledon, home of AELTC which will host the Tennis events during the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 26, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)
Tom Shaw
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Aerial view of Wimbledon, home of AELTC which will host the Tennis events during the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 26, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

When London won the bid to host Olympics seven years ago, the city promised that the Games would leave a legacy of the revitalization of historically underdeveloped East London as well as new sporting facilities. This promised legacy was an important part of the city’s bid.

“Legacy is important for many reasons, one of which is economic,” said Simon Wright, the Olympic Delivery Authority’s head of infrastructure and utilities, told CNBC.com. “If you are spending a lot of money on regenerating part of East London, we want to get a lot out of that investment. We are hoping this would be a fantastic Olympic game and recreation facilities for the long-term.”

In December 2010, the British government created four legacy themes which aim to increase school-based and grass-roots sports participation, economic growth, promote community engagement and ensure that the Olympic Park can be developed as one of the main drivers of regeneration in East London.

Wright said Stratford suffers from lack of investment in new development over a large period of time. As industry declined, there was not much to take its place and it has suffered from under-investment since.

“This is the opportunity to kick start to provide new housing, recreation and jobs in the long term,” he said.

The ODA is responsible for building permanent venues including the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Center.

“When we started in 2006, we were the only organization in the design and development of Olympic Park,” Wright said. “We were focused on the buildings’ needs on legacy and the need to support that from the beginning.”

The ODA is working with the London Legacy Development Corporation to plan the Olympics and long-term use for the facilities. The LLDC will gain responsibility for the facilities post-games.

“We work very closely to ensure the transfer is seamless and there is a rapid startup of transformation of the work need and the park opened so local residents can use the facilities and new housing can take place,” Wright said.

Other Olympic City Legacies

London is not the first Olympics host city to use the venues post-games in an effort to revitalize a struggling area. In modern time, the Olympics have been hosted in 22 cities leaving the city either transformed or worse. The Atlanta games in 1996 left a legacy that is still evident today.

“The city now has a sizable downtown resident population which it never had prior to the Olympics,” said Harvey Newman, professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University, told CNBC.com. “The legacy of the games in Atlanta took several forms. All of the major academic institutions in the city benefited from Olympic venue construction. The preparation for the games gave developers an incentive to build new apartments and to convert older buildings into lofts.”

The games also helped Atlanta’s recognition as an international city, Newman said.

“Prior to the games, Atlanta was not well known by people in other parts of the world,” he said. “Its reputation was enhanced by the television coverage of the games. This has led to increased international investment and tourism in the city.”

London Can Use Games to Polish Reputation

However, Athens in 2004, for example, was left in debt post-games.

“No one aims to fail,” Wright said. “Everybody tries to do what they think is the best plan. We are learning from previous games like Athens, Barcelona, Sydney and so on. We don’t know if it will succeed but we will hope it does. We are confident that the plan is robust and what it will bring to the community in the longer term.”

Newman said because London is already one of the world’s most famous cities, they can use the games to polish its reputation as a place to visit and do business.

“London can also use the preparation for the games to promote investment in some low-income neighborhoods near Olympic venues,” he said. “Few events rival the Olympics as an investment opportunity for the host city. It is a mega-event in every sense of the term. London is in the position of very few other cities that have hosted prior games.”

London aims to have 18 legacy projects. These include the Olympic Village, which will be housing for London residents post-games. While about 30 percent of the village will be social housing, the remaining space will be leased or sold. The Olympic Stadium will be used for the 2017 World Athletic Championships and other sporting, cultural and community events and the Aquatics Centre will be a swimming center for clubs, schools, athletes and the general public.

“The most challenging part is trying to predict what would be the most economic, viable legacy use,” Wright said. “Because it was designed in 2006 and 2007, it was hard to get commitment from businesses and try to predict any involvement without any tenants and it was a difficult thing to do.”

The planning of the games is in "good shape,’’ Wright said.

“We set out to spend two years planning, four years building and one year testing. The last of the major buildings was completed in 2011 and we’ve been testing and commissioning since. We were 500 million pounds ($779 million) below our budget and met all the objectives. We’ve felt pretty good about the outcome really,” he said.

The ODA has also aimed to become more sustainable by using materials from some of the buildings demolished to build the Olympics site in the construction of new venues.

“At the end of the day, we need to achieve greenness. We can’t go living as a two or three planet society,” Wright said. “We are not there yet but we are a step in the (right) direction.”