What’s next for Sochi’s $50 billion in facilities?

Written by on February 24, 2014 in World - No comments

This is Russia’s semi-tropical southern corner, where you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon – in mid-winter!

For the Winter Olympics, Russia spent $50 billion on an international airport, new docks for cruise ships, a railroad and highway from the sea to the mountains, four world-class ski areas and almost 50,000 hotel rooms – all for 17 days of sports competition.

Now the crowds are going home, jamming the new airport terminal, and residents left behind worry that the resort was overbuilt.

The press center next to Olympic Park – five times larger than Moscow’s Red Square – is to become a shopping mall.

One Olympic rink is to be dismantled and shipped to Siberia. Other facilities will be kept intact, to train future Russian Olympic skiers, skaters and sledders.

A boon for sports enthusiasts
The new winter sports areas are a hit with Russian skiers and snowboarders used to substandard facilities.

Sasha Geraskovski, a skier from Moscow, paused to chat atop Gornaya Karusel, the only ski area open to tourists during the Olympic Games.

“I always used to go to Europe, to Austria or France,” for skiing, said Geraskovski, a marketing specialist. “Now I see Russia can give me all I need. I have good hotels, good food and good hospitality right here, and great snow. Next time, I will spend my vacation right here.”

But is a 40,000-seat stadium too big for a resort city of 340,000?

An expensive trip for Russians
Russians accounted for an estimated 90 per cent of all visitors to the Winter Olympics. But will they come back to Sochi without the Olympic Games as a draw?

City tourism officials complain that taxes make a flight from Moscow to here more expensive than a flight to Turkey.

Yulia Malorodnova, deputy chief of Sochi’s tourism office, said high air fares account for 70 per cent of the total cost of a typical package tour.

Stalin’s dacha a hotel?
Anatoly Pakhomov, Sochi’s mayor, said market forces will solve the problem of too many hotel rooms.

“The most important regulator is competition, and competition is very tight right now,” Pakhomov said. “The problem of high prices that we’ve had, I think the market will even that out.”

Exemplifying Sochi’s preference for market-led solutions, local authorities have a novel plan to finance a museum at the hillside dacha that Stalin once used. Next year, they will open a boutique hotel in a wing of the dead dictator’s Black Sea retreat.

Source: VOANews.com

(Photo: Sochi 2014 Winter Games/flickr.com)

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About the Author

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow last summer – the hottest on record. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.