Twenty years on, Barcelona Olympic venues defy crisis

Agence France-Presse
Massive venues built for the Games continue to host major events despite Spain's economic crisis

BARCELONA, Spain – Twenty years after the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the massive venues built for the Games continue to host major events, from swim meets to concerts, even if they have had to slash their fees to face Spain’s economic crisis.

The Games were a catalyst for the regeneration of industrial areas and old quarters and it opened Spain’s second-largest city to the Mediterranean thanks to the construction of a marina and the Olympic village by the sea.

Today the village has become a neighborhood of 1,800 apartments which were sold to the public after the sports event was over.

Public transportation also benefited from the Games with the construction of a ring road linking the four main Olympic sites, as well as a massive redevelopment of the city’s railway station and airport.

“From the beginning we recognized that the project was a pretext. The goal was to do in six years what it would normally take 50 years to do,” said Barcelona Olympic Organising Committee chief Miquel Abad.

In total 9.844 billion euros ($12.335 billion) were spent on the Olympics, including 5.985 billion euros in infrastructure and 3.859 billion euros in construction and equipment.

The bill has been fully paid off since 2007, according to Barcelona city hall.

The Olympic venues host over 150 events per year, said Ignasi Armengol, the director of Barcelona Municipal Services, the municipal company charged with managing the installations.

Most are held in the 70,000-seat Olympic Stadium and the 20,000-seat Palau Sant Jordi stadium in Montjuic, a hill overlooking Barcelona’s harbor, he added.

Bruce Springsteen performed at the Olympic Stadium last month, following in the footsteps of Bon Jovi and Coldplay.

Madonna and Lady Gaga preferred the Palau Sant Jordi for their upcoming concerts in Spain.

“We are competing internationally. In this region a major artist has to choose between venues in Montpellier, Nice or Barcelona,” said Armengol.

“In general rental fees for venues have gone down and we are also adapting to the economic crisis by adjusting prices.”

The two main venues, the Olympic Stadium and the Palau Sant Jordi, can generate 500 million euros per year, if indirect revenues from the tourism and retail sectors are taken into account, said Armengol.

“Normally sports events are not linked to economic profitability, what they do is promote the city. It is an indirect benefit,” he said, adding profits from musical events made up for the lack of profitability of sports events.

The Palau Sant Jordi, designed by award-winning Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, “is the most profitable venue but it is difficult to fill”, said Armengol.

It will host the World Swimming Championships next year between July 19 and August 4 in a specially built pool as well as the Handball World Championship between January 11 and 27.

Maintenance costs for the Olympic venues are high. Over 20 percent of Barcelona Municipal Services’ annual budget of 25 million euros goes towards the upkeep of the installations.

The Palau Sant Jordi, with its giant screens and sound equipment, has the highest maintenance costs of all the venues.

The so-called “Barcelona model” of urban regeneration continues to be hailed as a model to follow by other Olympic host cities seeking to use the Games to transform neglected neighborhoods.

The 1992 Olympics “offered a very powerful powerful image of the city that combined in a magical way culture, leisure, beaches and the sea, architecture and arts,” said Abad.

“Since then tourism has not stopped growing in Barcelona in both quality and quantity.” – Marcelo Aparicio, Agence France-Presse