February 9, 2018 / 4:11 AM / 3 months ago

From ballet to bust, South Korea's Olympic venues face uncertain fate

GANSEONG, South Korea (Reuters) - With its rocky, overgrown, and snowless piste, the isolated and abandoned Alps Ski Resort deep in the mountains of South Korea’s Gangwon province is a decaying monument to the fate of winter sports in the country.

Empty buildings are seen at the abandoned Alps Ski Resort located near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Goseong, South Korea, February 6, 2018. Picture taken February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The resort, once thronged by domestic and foreign skiers, closed its doors in 2006, throwing out of business small equipment rental shops nearby, many of them still stocked with dusty piles of ski boots and brightly-colored snowboards.

“The quality of snow is really good here. This is the best place (to run a ski resort),” said Jung Hyung-gun, who has lived in the now almost-deserted town for nearly 40 years.

“Businessmen came here about 10 years ago and earned a lot of money. Then they tried to sell it but failed and they just left. Since then it became like this”.

Keen to ensure the facilities built for this year’s Winter Olympics escape a similar fate, South Korean officials have been trying to draw up plans for the future of the Pyeongchang 2018 venues - but with mixed results.

Six of the 14 venues are existing sites that were refurbished. The rest are new constructions, three of which have no post-Olympic plan for their control or management, according to a document produced by the Gangwon provincial office, and reviewed by Reuters.

Empty buildings are seen at the abandoned Alps Ski Resort located near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Goseong, South Korea, February 6, 2018. Picture taken February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Plans have stalled over a debate between provincial and central officials about who should cover the extra operating costs, particularly at venues too fast or technical for amateur athletes, such as the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre, the towering structure at the heart of the games.

“We do have plans for after the Olympics, to use them mostly as community facilities, but the plans for the four facilities that only national athletes can use have not been completed,” Choi Moon-soon, the governor of Gangwon province, told Reuters.

BOLSHOI BALLET

Along with the Ski Jumping Centre, the Jeongsun Alpine Centre and the Gangneung-based speed skating and hockey centers still face an uncertain future after the Olympics.

Slideshow (4 Images)

The document reviewed by Reuters showed the annual cost of operating the four venues is expected to outrun profits by 5.8 billion won ($5.36 million).

To cushion the financial burden, Gangwon wants the government to provide an extra 4.6 billion won, or about 80 percent of the estimated losses.

South Korea’s sports ministry has been discussing the issue with other government departments, a ministry spokeswoman said, without elaborating.

Some of the concerns stem from the long distance between rural and mountainous Gangwon Province and the sprawling and densely populated capital, Seoul. Gangneung, for instance, is 230 km (143 miles) away, ruling out spur-of-the-moment decisions.

Despite a government offer of a free five-year lease, Daemyung Group, a holding company of Daemyung Corp, a resort operator that owns an ice hockey team, dropped plans to run the ice hockey center as a training facility and the concert hall after judging them unprofitable.

“It was estimated to cost about 2 billion won every year to maintain it,” a source familiar with the matter told Reuters, mentioning a sum equivalent to $1.8 million.

“If the stadium was that attractive, everyone would have wanted it, but it’s in Gangneung - how many people are going to come from Seoul to watch some Bolshoi ballet?” ($1=1,083.0900 won)

Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in SEOUL; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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