Six years after retractable seating was first discussed and then dismissed as an option for the stadium, the legacy company now led by London Mayor Boris Johnson is considering installing movable seats after all.
If it happens it means the one part of the arena always intended to be permanent - the 25,000-seat lower tier - will be ripped up, while the vast temporary structure supporting the upper tier remains untouched.
It will not be the first time organisers have dug themselves into a hole
trying to give the £500 million arena a meaningful life after the
That figure may turn out to be the final cost of the failure to choose between public subsidy and football when the stadium was being planned. They were the only options, and the price or prevarication is becoming clear.
Retractable seats will not be a perfect solution to the stadium’s inherent flaws, and retrofitting them poses a huge engineering challenge.
Architects Populous did not respond to calls on Tuesday but we can be fairly certain that were they building a 60,000-seat stadium with retractable seats from scratch, they would not start by building an 80,000-seat athletics stadium with only 25,000 permanent seats and then improvise.
But a decision to press ahead with retractable seats, the preference of Johnson and London Legacy Development Corporation chief executive Dennis Hone, might at last deliver a stadium that works both for athletics, the sport for which the stadium was built, and football - the cash cow ignored for too long by Olympic planners.
But it will not prevent fresh arguments over whether it is an appropriate use
of public funds.
They will pay a rental fee in the region of £2 million a year and a share of
commercial and catering income will generate much-needed revenue for the
Park. But many will question why a private company in the hugely lucrative
As they press ahead with their own stadium plans in Tottenham, however, they will look at yet another injection of public funds and wonder if the mayor is treating all parts of the capital, and all its football clubs, fairly.
West Ham’s counter argument, made repeatedly over the two years since they first thought they had won the right to move into Stratford, is that they are the only candidate offering to cohabit with athletics.
That requirement has been the root of the stadium’s problems from the outset. There is no question that the arena delivered defining moments beyond expectations in the summer. But no amount of medals can change the economic reality of athletics as a sport that does not pay for itself.
Lord Coe, Tessa Jowell and Ken Livingstone were quite right to insist on an athletics legacy from the stadium and to deliver one having promised it. Their failure was to think it could be done without football.
From the outset it was clear that without the promise of permanent subsidy, not forthcoming even in the mid-2000s boom, Stratford would need the national sport to sustain it.
Even a firm of “legacy consultants” specifically hired to find an alternative to Premier League football, could not find one, but their findings were ignored and Jowell and Livingstone, spurred on by Coe’s commitment to his sport, rejected football as an option.
As far back as 2006 West Ham, then under Icelandic ownership, were keen on buying the stadium if retractable seating could be built in. They offered £100 million as a capital payment and proposed a revenue-sharing deal, but Jowell and Livingstone rejected it because West Ham’s plan was not credible and required the Government to put in £97 million of additional public funds.
The Icelandic bubble burst in West Ham’s face in 2008, so they may have had a point, but six years later Johnson is back where this started, arguing for public money to fund retractable seats for West Ham.
The one saving grace is that after two years of delays and disputes, this saga may be finally reaching its endgame. Negotiations in the next two weeks should be decisive, with Johnson seeking more money from the Government - he is eyeing a slice of £500 million of unspent Olympic construction contingency, as well as Newham Council, already contributing £40 million, and West Ham.
It will be at least a year late - the start of the 2015 season is the new target - and may not look much like the Olympic Stadium as the distinctive triangular floodlights are likely to go as part of the rebuild. But at last the people who got the stadium into this mess will be able to stop digging.
IOC BIDES TIME IN ARMSTRONG CASE
The International Olympic Committee will wait for cycling’s governing body to react to the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s allegations against Lance Armstrong before taking action to censure those involved in the corrosive scandal.
Armstrong’s bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Games could be removed and Levi Leipheimer, who admitted doping as part of the Armstrong investigation, could lose his medal from Beijing.
Two months after winning his second Tour de France in 2000, Armstrong took bronze in Sydney behind Vyacheslav Ekimov, his then team-mate at US Postal, and German Jan Ullrich.
Leipheimer was third in the Beijing time trial behind Fabian Cancellara and Gustav Larsson, of Sweden. Alberto Contador, the Spaniard who was stripped of the 2010 Tour de France title after testing positive for clenbuterol, was fourth.
The IOC will have to address its eight-year statute of limitations if it is to act against Armstrong, setting a precedent that could be applied to future doping cases.