What's Next for the Bird's Nest?
The afterlife of Olympic stadiums.
For the 29th Olympiad, which ended on Sunday, the Chinese built or renovated 31 venues in and around Beijing. Construction of the six main sporting facilities—including the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube—cost more than $2 billion. For the 2004 Olympics in Athens, which was conducted on a somewhat smaller scale, the Greeks built 22 venues. What happens to all the fancy stadiums after the closing ceremonies?
They're downsized into workaday sporting arenas, reborn as hotels and shopping malls, or fall into disrepair. The Bird's Nest stadium will become home to Beijing's Guoan Football Club and double as an entertainment complex for concerts. State-run investment group CITIC will reduce seating from 91,000 to 80,000 and redevelop the surrounding area to include hotels, malls, and restaurants. It's estimated that the reconstruction will cost 300 million yuan (almost $44 million) and that the annual operating cost of the stadium complex will be about 70 million yuan (about $10.2 million). Seating will also be reduced at the Water Cube, which will become a training and recreation center for swimmers and divers. Plans are underway to add tennis courts, retail outlets, restaurants, and night clubs.
As for some of the less talked-about venues: The fencing hall will be converted into a conference center; the National Indoor Stadium will become a multi-use facility, hosting arts and entertainment events as well as athletic competitions; and athlete accommodations in the Olympic Village are being sold as private residences.
Especially when compared with Beijing's detailed plans, Athens hasn't handled the post-Olympics well. The badminton stadium built for the 2004 Games is now a theater, and a government ministry has moved into the media center. But the two main arenas at the Faliro Bay Complex are vacant, there are squatters' camps in the adjoining fields, and the open-air swimming pool goes unused. Sydney, site of the 2000 Games, has fared a bit better. The National Rugby League holds its grand finale at the main stadium, and other entertainment events take place there as well. Redevelopment of the Olympic Park as a mixed-use residential and commercial site, however, has been slow going. Plans weren't finalized until 2005, and construction isn't finished yet.
After hosting the Games in 1996, Atlanta turned its main stadium over to the Atlanta Braves. Georgia Tech manages the aquatic center and houses students in the Olympic Village. The city uses the Centennial Olympic Park for its annual Independence Day fireworks display and for outdoor concerts.
Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Winter Games, can lay claim to the most bizarre post-use plan. After the Games, the athletes' village became Ray Brook, a correctional facility. (Prison-camp inmates had constructed the ski trails for the alpine events.)
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Explainer thanks Tony Bijkerk of the International Society of Olympic Historians. Thanks also to reader Sean Carlson for asking the question.
Juliet Lapidos is a former Slate associate editor.
Photograph of Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium by Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images.