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Is London The Next Bellevue?

Is London  The Next Bellevue?
Pop quiz: The greatest feat of the London Olympics was: A) Usain Bolt's incredible speed; B) Gabby Douglas's athletic flips and twists or C) The Spice Girls balancing on the roofs of those black top cabs? The answer is actually D) The building boom that prepped London's formerly gritty East End to host the world's biggest elite sports party.
London Bridge decked out for the Olympic Games.
We spent three weeks soaking up the Olympic scene on-site in August, but for the scoop on London CRE we turned to Gardner Economics' Matthew Gardner, one person we know in Seattle CRE who is originally from the Olympic city (and even after 25 years in the US has the accent to prove it). Matthew confirms what we read in Dickens: before the UK won the bid to host the Olympics, the East End was not exactly a nice place to be. Hosting the Games gave the city an excuse to do a mammoth $14.5B overhaul of the traditionally depressed area.
Matthew Gardner of Gardner Economics at the Future of Bisnow Future of Downtown Seattle event.
"Such a dramatic amount of capital investment can only be a good thing," Matthew tells us. "It brought in a lot of short-term jobs. Whether they'll turn into long-term jobs is a big question mark. That's where the jury is out." Yes, London 2012 was "horribly overbudget" (initial estimates of the cost of the Games were around $4B). But if nothing else, the Games were gold for London's morale. The last time the Olympics were held in London—1948—the country was also in the throes of recession. So did Matthew, who fenced as a boy, watch the Games? Of course! "I watched the cycling rather closely because obviously we're rather good at it," he tells us.
The Olympic stadium on a slow day.
The result of that investment is a sparkling new hotel and restaurant district, also home to Westfield Shopping Centre, the third-largest retail plaza in the UK. Conveniently, you had to walk through it to get into the Olympic Park. During the Games, you did so very slowly, because up to 300,000 other people were trying to do the same thing every day, usually all at the same time. The 70,000 volunteers, like recent Bristol University grad Samir Dwesar, snapped below at the Acquatic Centre, deserve a gold for people-herding— the journey from the Stratford tube station to the park could take 40 minutes during rush hour before high-profile events.
Samir Dwesar at the Acquatics Centre in the Olympic Park.
Per square foot, London property is more expensive than anywhere else (except Monaco), but grubbiness also made the East End affordable. Now, there are fears that families could be priced out (in spite of the fact that some of the housing erected near the Olympic Park will become affordable housing). "There is a lot of talk about legacy at the moment," says Cathy Ross, the Museum of London's director of collections. Among planned projects: The Athletes' Village will be converted into almost 3,000 apartments, while some venues will be dismantled or turned into smaller athletic arenas or sites. Cost of turning this Olympic playground into Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: 300 million pounds. (Converted to US currency, 300 million pounds is about four people.)
A Scottish coo.
After it was all over, we escaped to Scotland for some respite from the crowds. The country is also pondering a 2014 referendum for independence from the United Kingdom, part of a nationalism trend perhaps spurred on by Europe's ongoing economic difficulties. Scotland's got a lot going for it: whiskey, wool, men in kilts, and cows whose forelocks remind us of Donald Trump. It also has some of Europe's greatest oil reserves and a very healthy trade in tourism. In addition, Glasgow will be hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games, an Olympics-like event for countries once ruled by the British Empire. We can't wait.