West Ham named preferred Olympic stadium bidders
West Ham United moved a step closer to moving into the London Olympic stadium after they were named as preferred bidders for the tenancy.
The Hammers' offer to move into the stadium in Stratford in time for the start of the 2014-15 season has been "ranked highest of the received" by the London Legacy Development Corporation.
West Ham vice-chairman Karen Brady said in a statement via the club's official website: "In selecting West Ham United, the LLDC have secured a long-term viable financial future for the park. On behalf of West Ham United, I feel privileged to have been granted the responsibility to play a key part in delivering a true Games legacy.
"I would like to thank the loyal, passionate and patient West Ham supporters who have given their time to share their opinions on our proposed move and, despite the considerable constraints and confidentially agreements we were required to enter into, I can assure them that their feedback was instrumental in shaping the board's approach to our bid.
"I guarantee they will not be disappointed when our full vision for a stadium that is world-class in terms of supporter experience, sightlines and facilities is revealed. We will seek to share full details as soon as we are able to do so."
Although the decision - which came after discussions between the British government, the London mayor's office and LLDC chiefs - does not involve any contracts being signed or other bidders being excluded from the process, it does mean the east London club's plans of moving out of their current home at Upton Park are closer to becoming reality.
A timescale for the next phase of the bidding process to take residency of the £429 million arena is yet to be confirmed.
Brady added in a separate statement later on Wednesday: "It is important for all supporters to note that while today's decision represents a huge step forward, as we have stated throughout, highest-ranked bidder status does not mean that West Ham United have at this stage agreed to the move and it remains the case that we will only do so if the final proposal is right for the club and our supporters.
"This includes the necessity of agreeing a stadium design specification that is acceptable to us in terms of its ability to host world-class football matches."
In a joint-statement, West Ham co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold expressed their hopes that a move of three miles will reward the club's current fans and help them attract new supporters.
''We believe that this move, together with the realisation of other key goals that the board set out to achieve from the outset, will play a huge part in helping to realise our ambitious vision to move the club to the next level on behalf of our fantastic and deserving fans," they said. "Our absolute priority is to take them with us, as well as enticing those supporters that have previously eluded us due to barriers such as affordability and accessibility."
West Ham increased their upfront offer from £10 million to £15 million for the 99-year lease, on top of the £2.5 million RPI-linked annual rent, and giving up catering rights and boosting the value of any stadium naming deal, their tenancy will be worth an extra £6.5 million a year to the LLDC.
LLDC's board will have to pay all of West Ham's matchday costs for the 25 days a year it will have access to the stadium under the terms of the tenancy agreement. West Ham will redevelop Upton Park using the proceeds to help pay down debt before the move.
UK Athletics are guaranteed 20 days of use a year and will host the 2017 World Athletics Championships in the stadium, while Newham Council will be guaranteed a specific number of days for community use.
Newham Council will increase their loan from £40 million to £70 million, and while £38 million is available from the Olympic budget towards conversion costs, that still leaves a gap of about £20 million.
West Ham have made a compelling case, suggesting they would bring 1.2 million additional people to the Olympic Park every year, raising the profile of the entire Olympic Village through the global reach of the Premier League and its mushrooming overseas TV rights.
The Hammers plan to have a maximum attendance of 100,000 in the all-purpose new stadium with retractable seats to cover the running track to include pop concerts and hand out a section of cheap tickets.
West Ham believe they would have the ideal legacy for the Olympic Park when they pledged to ensure "the park and local businesses would continue to see the increase in footfall they witnessed during the Olympic and Paralympic Games."
The Hammers pledged to create 720 new jobs if selected as anchor concessionaires, with a further expansion of the award-winning Community Sports Trust mentor programme promised.