- 22 Feb 2016 8:00 AM
In March 2015 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that Budapest had offered to host the world swimming championship games in 2017 in lieu of hosting the junior world swimming championship games in 2021.
He said the reason for this was that the original host of the 2017 games, Guadalajara, Mexico, had pulled out at the last minute, leaving world body FINA in the lurch.
At the time Orbán called on the Hungarian people to exercise solidarity in the interest of hosting the prestigious sporting event (without mentioning that they had agreed to pay HUF 1.5 billion (USD 5.4 million) for the privilege of assisting FINA in its time of need).
Hungarian swimming federation president Tamás Gyárfás announced that hosting the prestigious event would cost a total of HUF 24.7 billion (USD 90 million), and the project would make Budapest a serious contender to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.
Disregarding concerns over the impact of the project on the environment or national heritage, in April 2015 parliament passed a law exempting it from all building regulations that could possibly slow down its construction.
Soon thereafter building regulations pertaining to the public bathing facility were modified so as to permit up to 35 percent of it to be developed and for a maximum building height of 50 meters.
(Inexplicably, the same law applied not only to the Dagály public baths and Margit Island, but also to certain real estate in the Lake Balaton resort town of Balatonfüred).
When Orbán announced in March 2015 that Hungary was to host the 2017 games, the government allocated HUF 14 billion to the project. This was in addition to the HUF 8 billion already allocated for the construction of a more modest facility in anticipation of hosting the junior world swimming championship in 2017.
The following day Hungarian swimming federation president Tamás Gyufás announced that the total cost of hosting the sporting event, including organizational costs, would amount to HUF 24.7 billion.
However, within weeks this amount increased to HUF 49 billion (USD 178 million). The project was awarded to a company owned by Fidesz oligarch István Garancsi without competing bids being solicited. In fact, the contract was reportedly signed before the decision to do so even appeared in the government gazette.
The ground-breaking ceremony took place on May 15th without announcing who the contractor would be. Not until the middle of June was it announced that MNV Zrt. had awarded a contract in the amount of HUF 36.63 billion (plus value added tax) to Market Zrt. whose majority owner is István Garancsi, having acquired it from the Wallis group the previous month without soliciting competing bids. Online investigative reporting website atlatszo.hu notes that the project approaches the company’s total revenues for 2014.
The 15,000-square meter building designed by Marcel Ferencz features two 50-meter swimming pools, a 25-meter diving pool and a 12-meter training pool. It will feature 5000 permanent seats to be temporarily expanded by an additional 14,000 seats.
To get a sense of just how “fast tracked” the investment was, this is what Orbán had to say at the cornerstone setting ceremony.
“In under two years must be built here in the area of the Dagály that water something, whose name we must determine: palace gives one an impression that is too elegant and luxurious, complex is not a Hungarian word. So, for the time being we do not know what we are building, because it is too grandiose for a swimming pool; a water center is being built here, let’s leave it at that for now.”
At the end of May the government established a new budget framework for the project—HUF 49 billion, or 3.5 times that of the original HUF 14 billion. The new amount agreed with the gross amount of the contract concluded with Market Zrt.
In June 2015, the right to host the event cost HUF 1.5 billion, HUF 833 million of which was to come from the reserve for extraordinary expenses.
The sky’s the limit
On Wednesday the Budapest city council approved the expenditure of HUF 18.1 billion (USD 66.5 million) on expenses related to hosting the 2017 World Swimming Championship, of which the city itself is to contribute HUF 9.3 billion towards the cost of renovating the left bank of the Danube and related improvements as well as the construction of bicycle lanes. The proposed improvements increase the total cost of hosting the event to HUF 86 billion.
Daily online napi.hu writes that “this project has been a part of the capital city’s plans for a long time whose realization has been moved up because of the world championship—furthermore the local government need only contribute a minimal amount” without saying what that amount might be or how the envisioned improvements could possibly cost HUF 18.1 billion (USD 65 million).
The appropriation increases the total cost of hosting the prestigious international event to Hungarian and European taxpayers to some HUF 68 billion (USD 247 million), or roughly USD 25 for every man, woman and child living in Hungary.
(The online daily, which, along with portfolio.hu and index.hu is owned by FHB owner Dr. Zoltán Spéder, has a knack for breaking big stories and putting a positive spin on them, thereby setting the mood for the rest of Hungary’s “copy-paste” media establishment-ed.)
According to the article it includes building a pedestrian and bicycle lane along the length of the quai along the Pest side of the Danube, as well as the cost of installing public utilities and roads on nearby Margit Island “whose Hajós Alfréd Uszoda will host the water polo matches, and for this reason it is necessary to undertake improvements that have been planned for a while”.
According to napi.hu, the infrastructural improvements on Margit Island are to cost HUF 5.3 billion but that “in addition to this another HUF 2.4 billion is to be spent renovating the island” which reportedly includes “landscaping and security technology”. An additional HUF 541 million (USD 2 million) is to be spent on new docking facilities to accommodate boats ferrying contestants, guests and “VIPs” between the Dagaly and Margit Island.
Napi.hu notes parenthetically that “it’s another question whether adequate boats exist for this” but does not think to ask why it is necessary to hold the water polo event at a separate facility on an island in the middle of the Danube some 3 km away from the world-class facility that is being built just north of the Árpad bridge.
The daily online reports that an additional HUF 3.7 billion (USD 1.3 million) is to be spent repairing city roads, including the Váci út, the Hungária körút and the Árpád bridge. While Budapest residents will be pleased to learn that Budapest’s busiest four-lane road is to be renovated, it is hard to know how they will react to the elimination of one of the four lanes between the Árpad bridge and the City Park to accommodate bicycle lanes.
Source: The Budapest Beacon
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