Green light for Hippos development?

A decision on ambitious plans to develop the Hippos area of Jyväskylä into a major centre of recreational sport, sports research, competitive sport and wellness services will be taken during the next few weeks. The current plan, which involves an investment of close on 300m euro, will be outlined to the city council on 22.2. prior to coming before the city board on 7.3.

The plan, which has sharply divided public opinion, envisages the construction of a new multipurpose arena to serve ice hockey and football, a new and long-awaited baseball stadium, parking for 3000 vehicles, including a multi-storey car park to replace the current multipurpose sports hall, a revamp of the existing Hippos Hall and Synergy Arena, plus some 500 new homes. There is even talk of a new hotel.

What everybody does agree about, however, is that the Hippos area is badly in need of a facelift. Since the completion of the Hippos Hall in 1992, the Viveca building – built during the wellness services boom of the early 2000s – has been the only addition of note to the site. Hippos is largely still in the same state as in the mid-1970s, incoherent, poorly maintained, and in many places dilapidated. The existing multipurpose sports hall is a case in point; already in need of an 80% refit, the better option could be demolition. Hippos Hall too requires sizeable renovation.

There are many who would love the new facilities, but a number of key issues remain. Do the numbers stack up? Where will the investment come from and, perhaps more importantly, will the charges for using the new facilities be sustainable in the long term? Is it a good idea to outsource the city’s most valuable sports facilities to a company in which the city only has a 20% stake?

Those behind the scheme are keen to emphasise that if the city is willing to invest the amount already needed to renovate the multipurpose sports hall and Hippos Hall – some 25m euro – then a further 250m euro can easily be raised from private investors. The scheme relies naturally on a large increase in the number of people using the new facilities in order to bring down the unit cost. Yes, the number of elderly people is increasing quickly and Hippos could make a valuable contribution to their well-being. Yes, there is some potential for attracting people from other places in Finland and abroad, after all, the University of Jyväskylä is unique in Finland in having a faculty of sport and health sciences.

Ultimately, the city board, when it decides, will have to tread a fine line between risk and reward. The opinions of grass roots users – local sports clubs – will be key. And so will the credibility of the user projections. Another albatross around its neck – in the style of Keljonlahti – the city really cannot afford. 

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