Society

Venues vanish

China’s controversial stadium

The stadium rocked: Wulihe Stadium, demolished in Shenyang

The original Wembley Stadium stood for 80 years, before its demolition in 2003. That looks like a decent run, and especially so by Chinese standards. By contrast a stadium in Shenyang has just been knocked down after a mere nine years.

Nor was it cheap to put up. Built in the same year that Wembley was razed, the venue cost Rmb800 million ($128 million) and was once considered the largest indoor football stadium in Asia, with space for 33,000 spectators.

The timing of the decision has provoked interest. That’s because the man responsible for this grandiose white elephant was none other than Bo Xilai, the purged official (see WiC145). Bo’s original powerbase was in Liaoning and it was while he was serving as provincial governor that the Green Island Sports Centre was built. Though the current provincial government denies the demolition has anything to do with Bo’s downfall, the symbolism is eerie.

So why tear it down? Local government says the stadium’s location – on the outskirts of the city – was hard to access, which led to low attendances. The arena also faced competition from Shenyang Olympic Sports Centre and West Stadium, two new sports stadia in Shenyang with much better locations.

It’s another reminder too of how much local governments love vanity projects (see WiC60). All too often they splurge on lavish buildings that are then little used.

Take, for example, the Shenzhen Grand Theatre and the Shenzhen Concert Hall. According to a report submitted to the committee of the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Congres, the two venues were idle for up to two-thirds of every year between 2007 and 2009.

In the case of Shenyang’s indoor football stadium, there is a property angle too. The plan is to sell the demolished site to developers. Analysts say that most of the land in downtown Shenyang has been snapped up by real estate firms, leaving opportunities only in the suburbs for developers.

Two years ago, the famous Wulihe Stadium (also in Shenyang, and host to the match where the Chinese national team qualified for its first and only place at the World Cup) was also replaced by a property development.

The decision to demolish Green Island stadium was not universally popular. “Local officials say the utilisation rate for the stadium is low. But before they decided to tear it down did they think of ways to improve that? And more importantly, when the idea of the stadium was hatched, did the government not consider the problem of its usage?” thundered the Shanghai Evening Post.

Worse, nobody seems to be accountable for the original decision. “What’s even more baffling is that no government official is responsible for such a waste of resources and manpower,” lamented the Economic Observer. “To stop the indiscriminate demolition and construction of public buildings we really need to reflect on how Chinese local governments are regulated.”

Western Economic Daily, a newspaper published in Gansu, agreed. “Short-lived buildings usually have to do with quality reasons. Some are the result of bad planning, and others poor decision-making. But ultimately, they are all related to the improper use of power. Short-lived buildings in many cities continue to pop up around the country so unless we face the problem, more vanity projects will appear one after another.”


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