Business fear 2012 London games won't bring boom
You would think Tom Seaton would be sitting pretty right now, given that his cafe offers an almost-touch-it view of London's Olympic stadium.
But Seaton and other small business owners who work in the five London boroughs hosting the 2012 Olympics are mostly worried. Businesses in east London are likely to face severe disruption during the games that will take place on their doorstep.
''From the local community's point of view, the sooner the Olympics are gone, the better,'' said Seaton, who together with his sister, Jess, converted a derelict warehouse adjacent to the River Lea into the Counter Cafe, a relaxed gathering point for the arty hipsters who inhabit Fish Island, just across from the park.
The London Olympics begin July 27 and end Aug. 12, and that means huge crowds and heavy security around the stadiums they can now see. But they don't know if it will mean boom or bust - or how much they'll be affected by the restrictions on vehicle and pedestrian traffic outside their front door.
Far from the boom times promised by British authorities, the companies closest to the venues may suffer the most, said Peter Vlachos, an expert on events management at Greenwich University. Though little scholarship exists on the impact of the Olympics on small businesses, Vlachos cited related research suggesting that being too close to a hub of any kind can be detrimental - even if it is a positive kind of hub.
He cited real estate studies that suggest being a short walk from a subway stop is a good thing that increases your property value, while being right next to one can depress such values because of noise and crowds.
''You can actually be too close to the fire,'' he said.
Seaton is particularly concerned, as another cafe he operates on the greenbelt outside the main stadium, the Container Cafe, will be shut down during the games.
Lorraine Turton, the chair of the East Greenwich Traders Association, finds her Internet cafe is between two venues, a park and an arena, and hopes that will draw customers. But she notes the nearby plumbing supply store will likely suffer, because his customers will stay well away. Cashing in really depends on the kind of business one has.
''You might like to think what a marvelous opportunity, but the reality is quite different from that,'' said Turton. ''Transport is going to be a nightmare.''
Turton said she can't find out what the plans are for bus routes for her area, though a meeting will be held soon. She's also not impressed by the official suggestion that locals should ride bikes rather than drive.
''You can't ride 20 miles to work on a bicycle,'' she said.
Local borough officials have been sweating it out as they wait for Olympic authorities to draw up transport management plans around the 34 venues supporting the games. The plans will spell out details such as whether garbage trucks will be able to use the special lanes devoted to Olympic traffic if they travel at 3 a.m. Most of those plans have not been presented to local governments yet - and it's not clear when they will be.
''All the boroughs feel there is some ground to be made up in the transport plan,'' said Jules Pipe, the mayor of the borough of Hackney, one of the Olympic Games hosts.
Olympic officials say they are concerned about small businesses - but argue it isn't so simple to make sure that Olympic ticketing, security and other primary issues are addressed. Each venue is different, and each has to work into a complex road network meant to spirit athletes and officials to events on time.
''We are engaging with local communities around each venue starting now and continuing into the new year to ensure people have the chance to understand our plans in good time,'' the organization said.
Transport for London hotly disputed the Hackney mayor's criticism - arguing they are more than ready for the games. The organization notes it has held dozens of meetings with businesses to offer advice on how to circumvent any troubles.
''These claims are completely without foundation,'' London's Transport Commissioner, Peter Hendy, said in a statement. ''Both the Mayor of London and I have had recent and repeated discussions at the most senior levels with London's boroughs, and have both been told that they are content with the information they continue to receive from us.''
But all the back and forth doesn't cut it with Seaton, who looked out at the Olympic stadium as sparkling sunlight cascaded through his windows. He can't but help wonder about the opportunities lost with the one cafe that is being forced to close.
''We were all set to go,'' he said in dismay.