Road to the World Cup – Brazil is
regions’ bright spot when it comes to venue
construction
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: September 01,2007
When it comes to new venue construction, Latin America
doesn’t rank highly as a region bustling with business. In
2006, the entire region only saw the opening of three new major
facilities: a sports stadium in Cali, Colombia; an arena in
Salvador, Brazil and the highly anticipated Chivas Soccer Stadium
in Guadalajara, Mexico. Of those three, only the Mexican
soccer stadium was a completely new facility.
         
           
Demand for new facility construction has stayed relatively stagnant
for 2006/2007 with no privately financed buildings going through
the
pipeline.         
           
“When outside investors look at our region as a whole, they
don’t see live entertainment as the most promising investment
opportunity,” said Arthur Munoz of Peruvian booking firm
Andes Entertainment. “The money is going into
telecommunications, oil and natural resources and consumer
shopping. But no one seems to want to build and operate their own
facility. There’s just not enough knowledge of the
market.”   
           
A bright spot in Latin America’s construction drive is
Brazil, which is preparing to make a bid for the 2014 World Cup.
And after losing the Olympic Bid for the 2012 Games to soccer rival
England, Brazilian officials are reviving efforts to win the rights
to host that international contest in 2016.
           
Many are eyeing the 2014 World Cup bid as a barometer for the
country’s success.
          
           
“The biggest hurdle we’ll face is
facility-preparedness,” said architect Anibal Countinho, an
architect with BrasilArenas now working with several Portuguese
companies to create a new generation of smaller scale stadiums in
the country. “The biggest question is whether we can put
together enough viable proposals to meet the FIFA deadline. There
are a lot of talented people in the country who want to see the
World Cup come to
Brazil.”        
           
The biggest issue will be facility funding, explained Countinho,
who said that even a private-public model tied to the
nation’s wealthiest soccer teams wouldn’t be enough to
develop world-class facilities like the new Wembley Stadium in
London.           
           
“We’re not going to be able to build venues anywhere
near the international standard,” he admits. “The new
Wembley, for example, is a $1 billion construction. We might be
able to raise approximately $350 million, but never a billion, so
we wouldn’t be capable of having parity from a technological
point of view. Even if we wanted to build something like Wembley,
it would cost us much more than $1 billion, and then it
wouldn’t be viable to
operate.”           
           
If the nation expects to get any sort of outside investment for the
games, it needs to paint stadium construction and international
events like the World Cup and the Olympics as social justice
issues.          
           
“The investment needs for the Games could leave Rio with
vastly improved infrastructure and services. In a time of such
global imbalance between the developed and developing countries,
this could be a decisive consideration,” he said, later
adding, “The fact is that our economy simply doesn’t
allow us to work on the same scale as the mega-arena projects.
We’ll have to win the Olympics with stadiums and
installations that are relatively modest by international
standards, but which are adequate for a country in the developing
world.”          
           
There are some other areas in which Rio is playing catch up, he
said. “Event organization is a weak point,” Countinho
explained. “Not because we’re bad at it, but because we
lack experience. We don’t stage events in anything like a
quantity comparable to some of the other candidate
cities.”
           
From a construction standpoint, any large-scale venue development
is going to require the help of foreign specialists, said Tom
Cardenas of El Paso-based ECM construction, which has worked on a
range of building projects in Latin America including the Chivas
Stadium in Mexico.
           
“A lot of the regional governments are looking to doing
renovations as a way to save money against full-scale
rebuilding,” Cardenas said. “A lot of the American
contractors don’t want to touch those facilities — many
are 80 to 100 years
old.”           
           
Couple that with an aging infrastructure, complex laws regarding
foreign ownership and a populace with a relatively low amount of
expendable income compared to developing nations in Asia and
Eastern Europe and the incentives to work on a truly viable project
begin to wane.  
           
Of course, the biggest concern remains political stability,
Cardenas said. Security issues continue to slow construction in
Colombia, while a rash of kidnappings of foreign-born contractors
has left some companies feeling shaky about their investment in the
region. The country is also involved in a low-intensity war between
separatist rebels, narcotics traffickers and pro-government
militias. Cardenas said the spreading influence of
Socialist-leaning Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is causing some
firms to hesitate to build or invest in the poorer nations of the
region.
           
“There’s a very real fear about the nationalization of
private property and that’s making some people very hesitant
to delve into the region,” he
said.    
           
Alberto Familiar of Arena Monterrey (Mexico) said he was surprised
that more nations in Northern Latin American haven’t
constructed more sports arenas, especially with the growing
popularity of indoor concerts and the spreading influence of
American basketball. 
           
“When this facility was first built, we had a vision of new
arenas running south through the country from Laredo to Oaxaca, but
I think economics have slowed that vision,” said Familiar.
 
           
Instead, soccer stadiums in Mexico continue to be the norm and
2006’s biggest opening was the Guadalajara soccer field. The
huge facility opened in December and boasts 51,000 seats total,
placed in a low-grade specially-designed earthen grass-turf bowl.
The outside of the facility is also covered in grass, to give the
building a hillside appearance as if it were built into the
ground.           
           
“Right now everything is a learning process for us,”
said Eugenia Valdez Flores, chief communications officers for the
stadium. “The facility is so much different that the old
Chivas stadium — we were playing in a 60-year-old stadium up
until last year.”  
           
Flores said the building doesn’t have any plans to stage
major concerts, but has been accepted to host several English
premier soccer teams in 2008.
          
           
“That was a substantial victory for us,” she said.
“Our franchise has such a storied history, but we’re
hoping to grow in the region and become a destination for visitors
to Guadalajara.”
 

Interviewed for this story: Arthur Munoz, (51) 435 934 34; Anibal
Countinho, (55) 334 943 8; Tom Cardenas, (915) 351-1900; Alberto
Familiar, (81) 8126 2100; Eugenia Valdez Flores, (52) 333 496 25 40