GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — South Korean officials have ruled out turning a state-of-the-art Olympic skating arena into a giant seafood freezer. Other than that, not much is certain about the country’s post-Winter Games plans for a host of expensive venues.
As officials prepare for the games in and around the small mountain town of Pyeongchang, there are lingering worries over the huge financial burden facing one of the nation’s poorest regions. Local officials hope that the Games will provide a badly needed economic boost by marking the area as a world-class tourist destination.
But past experience shows that hosts who justified their Olympics with expectations of financial windfalls were often left deeply disappointed when the fanfare ended.
This isn’t lost on Gangwon province, which governs Pyeongchang and nearby Gangneung, a seaside city that will host Olympic skating and hockey events. Officials there are trying hard to persuade the national government to pay to maintain new stadiums that will have little use once the athletes leave. Seoul, however, is so far balking at the idea.
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The Olympics, which begin Feb. 9, will cost South Korea about 14 trillion won ($12.9 billion), much more than the 8 to 9 trillion won ($7 to 8 billion) the country projected as the overall cost when Pyeongchang won the bid in 2011.
Worries over costs have cast a shadow over the games among residents long frustrated with what they say were decades of neglect in a region that doesn’t have much going on other than domestic tourism and fisheries.
“What good will a nicely managed global event really do for residents when we are struggling so much to make ends meet?” said Lee Do-sung, a Gangneung restaurant owner. “What will the games even leave? Maybe only debt.”
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