The bookies, the population of Paris and the Queen of England all think that the French are about to add the 2012 Olympic Games to their sporting triumphs. We met the people behind the bid and found out why they’re so confident …
The driver is quite mad. His eyes dart from passenger to passenger – the road and other vehicles appear to be inconsequential elements of this ride – and he is mortally offended by the suggestion that Paris might not win its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games: “Don’t be so negative!”
Stéphane is doing his bit to ensure success. Not only is he one of the bid team’s chauffeurs, when asked by Paris 2012 for ideas on how to impress International Olympic committee when they visit the city next month, he came up with the plan to greet female members with bouquets of flowers.
Stéphane’s enthusiasm, if not his cunning plans, is typical of Parisians. Paris 2012’s slogan, “The love of the games”, is a fair one, as everyone in the city seems genuinely to want the Olympics staged there. Great buildings such as the Eiffel Tower and parliament are covered with signs promoting the bid. Indeed, it makes the catchphrase of the rival London bid, “We want it more”, sound rather hollow. According to recent reports, even the Queen thinks France will win.
In fact, Paris wants it so much that this is its third attempt to win the games in 20 years. In the past, the bid has been dismissed as “arrogant”. This time it has positioned itself as the safe choice, with 65% of the venues and 75% of the seats already built. Arguably, it also has superior transport to the four other bids. But these advantages bring problems - the regeneration impact will not be as significant as in London and the excitement of creating towering new sporting arenas will be lost.
Over the next six pages, Building will take Stéphane’s advice to not be too negative, and assess the strengths and potential pitfalls of a bid that the bookmakers make favourite …
- Just waiting for that torch: The venues
Paris’ great advantage is perhaps the quality of its existing venues. In its Stade de France, it has an Olympic-standard stadium that has already hosted the football World Cup and a global athletics championship. Managed by Europe’s top contractors, Bouygues and Vinci, it will require little upgrading ahead of 2012. All it will need is a new athletics track the year before the games, slight seating changes to accommodate more than 2000 members of the press, and some updated video technology. This is in sharp contrast to London, which is intending to build a stadium in the impoverished east of the city, near Stratford. Other venues, such as Roland Garros for the tennis and Parc de Princes for the football, are also in place.
Although the existence of such venues clearly takes many of the risk out of the project – in Athens last year, the swimming pool complex was not built in sufficient time to include a roof – some have questioned whether this means that it will be using outdated facilities by 2012. Referring specifically to Stade de France, a Paris 2012 spokeswoman scoffs at the notion: “It was built in 1998; this is a stadium that is not even a teenager. It will still be an amazing stadium.”
To ensure the stadium is kept to high standards, it has safety and maintenance checks every six months. Consistent failure to maintain and improve the stadium would mean that Vinci and Bouygues would lose their concession, which runs to 2025.
Stade de France is the focal point of one of the bid team’s “two clusters”. Essentially, the project is divided into western and northern clusters of facilities. This will ensure that spectators put less strain on the city’s infrastructure, and that athletes living in the Olympic village are only a 10-minute journey away from either set of facilities. A previous bid for the 2008 games was criticised for spreading events thinly through Paris.
There will be 13 new buildings for the events, only four of which are permanent. Paris wants to ensure that it meets IOC guidelines and avoids the construction of “white elephants” with little or no use afterwards.
A word of warning to the London team: the Millennium Dome may have finally found a use as part of its bid, but it remains the most notorious white elephant of all, having laid dormant for so many years.
Essar Gabriel, the chief operating officer of Paris 2012, says that the strength of the bid is the attention it has paid to the IOC’s advice and not being overly ambitious: “The concept of one village and two clusters is an improvement on 2008. We’ve done our homework and gone even further than last time. The philosophy is that big is not better.”
- Chink in the armour: Regeneration
Gabriel clearly thinks Paris is going to win – when asked, he will not contemplate whether Paris would bid for a fourth time if it fails again. But he consistently intersperses the word “humility” when he discusses Paris’ strengths. The perception of French arrogance has cost the city dearly in the past, and Gabriel is keen not to give the impression that winning is inevitable.
Yet he looks affronted at any criticism. What he particularly takes offence at is the suggestion that regeneration benefits are minimal. An area of wasteland in Les Batignolles, North-west Paris would be the big regeneration winner. At the moment it is wasteland of tracks, disused warehouses and derelict buildings. But the site will redevelop a mere 43 ha of space, and there will be little spill over to nearby sites. In total, the London bid will regenerate 1500 ha, and the village alone will offer 9000 new homes.
Gabriel says this misses the point: “We really need the games. It would accelerate change.” The main objective is to reconnect Paris with its suburbs, improve the rough areas inside the city ring road and improve rail tracks. “Something that would take between 20 to 30 years could be achieved within a decade.”
He adds that the accompanying paralympics would force Paris to address an issue it has so far dodged: disabled access. At present, none of the Metro stations makes provisions for the disabled, but under IOC rules this would have to change by 2012. Gabriel says: “This would raise awareness of people with disability – in France we need a leap forward like this.”
Less impressively, Gabriel adds that the nearby city of Versailles could be regenerated as a result of playing host to a shooting centre. He claims this would lead to the revamping of a 400 ha swathe of land.
- Taming a monster: The village
Lack of regeneration or not, there is little doubt that the site for the Olympic village needs some work. At the moment, it is a dirt-filled monstrosity.
In January 2003, Paris Town Hall contacted architect and amateur wine maker Francois Grether and asked him to create a masterplan for an area in Les Batignolles.
Grether’s first mission was to bridge the rail line and the ring road and link the wealthy southern area around Parc Monceaux and the poorer northern area. The brief also stipulated creating greener space and improvements to transport and existing structures. When Paris became a candidate for the 2012 games in June of the same year, Grether had to integrate his plan within the Olympic brief.
He is not working on a large space. The site is 800 m in length – some three-and-a-half times smaller than Athens’ village. The challenge for Grether is to create a site that is completely self-contained, out of sight of the outside world during the games, and then open it up to the rest of Paris afterwards: “It will be cut from the direct neighbourhood by office blocks. It will be a cocoon for the athletes. But when the games are finished, it will be the complete opposite. It is like an egg that opens up,” Grether says.
In his masterplan, the village will be at the heart of a new 10 ha park. “The idea is that it has to be a convivial place for the athletes to stay,” the architect says, adding that everything has to be within walking distance. Buildings are spread across eight units that local planning rules restrict to a height of 37 m. Two floors will be underground to store equipment during the games and afterwards are likely to be transformed into retail outlets and offices. Six to eight floors will be used as athletes’ accommodation, with the top two floors offering great views of the city. From this part of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre-Coeur on Montmartre heights and even the roof of the Stade de France are within sight. Restaurants will be built in two existing warehouses on the edge of the park, currently occupied by two cultural institutions, the opera house and a national theatre – both of which have agreed to move out. The village will take 363,000 m2 space.
Grether estimates that 90% of new buildings will stay up post-2012. Transport access will then be improved, with new roads, linking the village to the rest of Paris. After the games, architects will have to transform the athletes’ rooms into one- to five-bedroom apartments. About 228,000 m2 of new buildings will be available for rent and sale. The mayor of Paris intends to have 40% of those used as social housing – comparable with the 30-50% figure envisaged for the post-2012 London village.
The Olympic village would create a small but significant area of regeneration – as long as Paris wins the games. If it does not, Grether fears that this ugly little part of the city will not be regenerated for many years to come.
- Pricey but virtually risk-free: The costs
At more than £2.8bn, the Paris games would be the third most expensive in Olympic history, although they would be far less costly than their two immediate predecessors in Athens and Beijing.
Financially, it is also secure. Most of the cash would be spent without the catalyst of an Olympics, and is divided between national, regional and local government. The Paris bid team declare that this is the first time these three layers have worked together, meeting regularly to make key decisions on spending and timetable. One reason they have not worked together in the past has been that they do not tend to get on. This will have to stop: every committee has to make decisions unanimously.
The financial security is an obvious boon – Athens’ cost spiralled out of control and some have argued that the city will be crippled by the debt burden it has taken on. The lack of new permanent venues, has added certainty to the cost estimates. But Etienne Thobois, the bid’s finance director, has still inserted a 10% contingency fund: “Seven years out, this is what you need. But over that period, there’s really not much risk at all.”
Thobois points out that the spending is minuscule for a major city – the regional government alone spends *1bn (£689m) in Paris. “It’s achievable for a city like Paris,” Thobois explains. “That’s why we don’t need to include any extra taxes.”
- Clinging onto the future: Paris 2012
Paris 2012 argues that the games will create 60,000 jobs over the next seven years. It has already helped the career of one young architectural practice, Exploration Architecture. Yves Pages, the practice’s 29-year-old founding partner, won a design competition for a temporary Olympic landmark (pictured below), which added up to €150,000 (£103,000) in fees. This 80 m high inflatable landmark is based at the village site and will be erected by March so that it can be seen across Paris in the lead-up to the IOC’s July decision. “We’ve received some calls already,” Pages smiles, after being asked how much work the practice has won off the back of the competition.
Like so many other Parisians, Pages is desperate for his city to host the games. It may not have the same impact as some of its rivals, but this is a notably safe bid, with secure infrastructure, cross-government support, tight budgeting and the people’s “love of the games” shining through. And that’s why the IOC will probably declare Paris the winner, come July.
Olympic village site
This is Les Batignolles where the Olympic village would be situated. It is one of the few areas of Paris ripe for regeneration.
The chief operating officer
Essar Gabriel stresses that Paris is a proven performer, having held a successful football World Cup in 1998 and the 2003 World Athletics championships, of which he was chief executive. As a result he is media savvy. He certainly won't be drawn into criticising rival bids – that would breach International Olympic Committee rules. Instead he focuses on the intangible strengths of Paris: “There is the excitement of the city and the people. We are the masters of organising the biggest sports events in the world.”
Despite the boast, Gabriel constantly refers to the bid’s “humility” – the city’s attempt to host the 2008 games was hurt by accusations of arrogance. “A lesson we have learned,” he explains, ”is that the bid team has to be united and have a very good level of governance.”
Gabriel bristles at the question of what the city will do if history repeats itself and Paris loses. “There are a lot of ‘ifs’ there,” he says, “Today we're focused on the finishing line. We want the games now.”
The budget director
Etienne Thobois is a Paris 2012 director on secondment from accountant Arthur Anderson, he says the bid’s finances are secure, as the government is willing to underwrite the expense: “There’s not really much risk at all.” Thobois has experience of handling the finances of major sporting events, having run the budget for Paris’ athletics championships 18 months ago. He says there will be few PPP-style deals – one possible exception being the redevelopment of a site for canoeing near Euro Disney. Thobois doesn’t come across as a dull money man. He is suave and jokey, he was once world number 37 at badminton and even played in the 1996 games in Atlanta. He went out in the first round, but was pleased just to have made it there, having qualified at the last minute. He also made the last 16 in mixed doubles of the 1991 badminton world championships.
Stade de France
This would be the main stadium in the bid. The Stade de France has previously hosted the 1998 football World Cup and the 2003 World Athletics championships.
Yves Pages’ designs
This is the design for Paris’ Olympic landmark. It has to be constructed by next month, in time for a site inspection by the International Olympic Committee.
Yves Pages, 29, runs his own practice, Explorations Architecture, with his business partner Benoit Le Thierry d’Enniquin. He has a big job on: his design for an Olympic landmark must be constructed for an IOC venue inspection next month. His inflatable landmark (pictured) beat several hundred entries, including an inverted Eiffel Tower and a giant dwarf. “The idea of the project is that it can be seen from all over the city, very far away.”
Entries came in from all over Europe, including designs by British firms, such as Arup. London bid boss Lord Coe will be concerned that there is a traitor in Pages camp – the engineer is one Henry Bardsley, an Englishman.
Pages explains that the design is made up of a series of 10 m balloons, but are difficult to set up, due to the huge wind pressure. “It’s very unusual to build something that tight in Paris” he says. “You could relate it to a telephone mast.”
>>>>>>>>> Paris hosted the Games in 1900 and 1924 >>>>>> nine temporary and four permanent venues are planned >>>>>>>>>>> The Stade de France is as big as seven football fields >>>>>>>>>> The lightshow of key Parisian buildings costs € a building >>>>>>> >>> Beach volleyball will take place between the legs of the Eiffel Tower >>>>>>>>>> 454 projects have been submitted to build the Olympic landmark >>>>> >>> 79% of French people support the bid, according to a survey from the Sofres >>>>>>> Paris 2012 application weighed 4 kilos and filled 646 pages>>>>>>