SPORTS

Brazil to turn 2016 Olympic athletes' village into luxury condos following games

In this March 16, 2015 photo, a worker stands on the balcony of an apartment inside the Rio 2016 Olympic Games athletes village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Christopher Gaffney, who spent 5 1/2 years in Rio researching the 2014 World Cup and Olympics, called the village "a transfer of wealth program from the public (treasury) to private construction firms." (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

In this March 16, 2015 photo, a worker stands on the balcony of an apartment inside the Rio 2016 Olympic Games athletes village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Christopher Gaffney, who spent 5 1/2 years in Rio researching the 2014 World Cup and Olympics, called the village "a transfer of wealth program from the public (treasury) to private construction firms." (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Developers brag that the athletes' village for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics will rival a five-star resort.

The village will be turned into a private condominium complex after the games with some of the 3,600 luxury apartments selling for up to 2.3 million Brazilian reals ($700,000).

The lavish layout — called "Ilha Pura" (Pure Island) — should pamper thousands of athletes in Barra da Tijuca, the western Rio suburb that's the centerpiece of the games.

It also reinforces complaints that South America's first games are being run by powerful construction and real estate interests, oblivious to the city's sprawling favelas (slums) and stark inequality.

The village is mammoth: It has 31 17-floor towers with 10,160 bedrooms that will sleep 18,000 athletes and staff for the Olympics.

"All of the visitors here, the ex-athletes and athletes who know many villages, say this village is amazing," said Mauricio Cruz Lopes, the chief executive officer of Ilha Pura, in an interview with The Associated Press. "We are doing our best to convince all the 10,000 athletes to stay in this village and avoid staying in hotels."

Cruz, who called this the largest development of its kind in Brazil, said the construction cost was 2.3 billion reals ($700 million), which he said was 50 percent of the total cost that also includes land acquisition, marketing and other expenses. Financing is being handled by a state-run lender.

The swank village contrasts with the conditions of thousands of poor who once lived just a short walk from the village in Rio's Vila Autodromo, a favela that has been 90 percent demolished to make way for the Olympic Park. A few families hang on and resist eviction, lacking reliable basic services like water and electricity. It's a scene repeated often during the Olympics and last year's World Cup.

The village is being built by a consortium of Odebrecht and Carvalho Hosken. Odebrecht is one of the country's big-four contractors. Along with Andrade Gutiérrez, Camargo Correa and OAS, Odebrecht built many of the World Cup and Olympic projects.

It has also been implicated in a spreading kickback scandal involving state-run oil company Petrobras, which triggered protests earlier this month by hundreds of thousands in cities across the country.

"It's not just with the athletes' village, but everything that is being built in Rio is being used as an excuse for real estate development," said Alberto Murray, a Sao Paulo lawyer and former member of the Brazilian Olympic Committee.

His grandfather Sylvio de Magalhaes Padilha was president of the BOC and an IOC member.

In an interview with AP, Murray also singled out the controversial Olympic golf course, which has faced lawsuits over environmental and property laws.

Wealthy developer Pasquale Mauro is planning 140 luxury apartments surrounding the golf course, units starting at about $2 million.

A public prosecutor is weighing a lawsuit against Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes for concessions granted to Mauro, who received city approval to carve the golf course from a nature reserve.

Murray compared the athletes' village to one built in Barra da Tijuca for the 2007 Pan American Games. Some buildings have structural problems, streets are sinking, property values have dropped, and lawsuits have flourished.

Cruz, the Ilha Pura CEO, said this village was "completely different."

He said Rio organizers considered "cheaper apartments" to help lower-income families "like London and other cities did in the past."

"But for these Olympic Games, what we offered the International Olympic Committee during the bid process was an upscale village with upscale apartments."

An affordable-housing program for London's 2012 athletes' village has faced obstacles with prices out of the reach of some local residents.

Rio's village offers postcard backdrops: mountains, a rain forest and the sea. It will provide the usual village amenities: a cafeteria for 5,000, extra-long beds, wheelchair access and high-speed elevators, which Cruz said was an IOC suggestion.

The project should be completed early next year. The first occupants will move in six months after the games end.

Christopher Gaffney, who spent 5 1/2 years in Rio researching the 2014 World Cup and Olympics, called the village "a transfer of wealth program from the public (treasury) to private construction firms."

"Beyond the floodlights, the Olympics are always about real-estate speculation in the local context and Rio, with its already major problems of housing stock and social polarity, is definitely no exception," said Gaffney, an American who teaches geography at the University of Zurich.

Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter & Instagram