- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

SEOUL — If the District ever decides to build a stadium, officials should pay a visit here before the first plan is drawn.

On the northeast outskirts of this booming metropolis of 10 million people is a new stadium that apparently has not upset the city’s taxpayers, riled the local residents, bled money or remained empty half the year.

The gleaming Seoul World Cup Stadium, built in 2001 for the 2002 World Cup, is a modern sports venue that has altered a once-blighted area and brought prosperity to the community.

“This [stadium] has become a model case and a must-see attraction for foreign dignitaries and stadium managers from many countries,” stadium manager In-Jun Cheong said through a interpreter this week, a day before the opening game of the Peace Cup, an international eight-team soccer event.

The stadium was built on the city’s former giant trash heap, and since its construction real estate prices have soared.

“The fact that the stadium and park is built on garbage really tickles people,” Cheong said. “This was a dump as long as this city has been here. It was a hill made of garbage and a slum area.”

To build the $200 million soccer-specific venue, millions of tons of earth were brought in to cover the trash to create land for the stadium and the two tree-covered hills that overlook the Han River. Gas from the buried garbage is recycled.

Sensitive to the locals, the stadium — built in 38 months with “no accidents suffered” — contains a shopping mall, a giant discount store, a 10-screen movie theater, a fitness center, a wedding hall, a swimming pool and a clinic.

Each day the venue draws more than 27,000 people, and it has its own subway stop. Surrounding the stadium is an auxiliary soccer field, a parking lot for nearly 4,000 cars that generates daily revenue, open plazas and an ecological park. The park alone, according to Cheong, attracts 100,000 visitors a weekend.

The stadium is not a concrete bowl like RFK. It was built to incorporate the tradition and spirit of Korea in its design and is rich in symbolism.

The octagon-shaped stadium resembles the traditional Korean tea tray. The roof was designed to look like a shield-shaped kite.

“Kites can fly high — like Korea’s future — and ward off evil spirits,” Cheong said as he spread detailed drawings of the stadium on his desk in his no-frills office. In Korea, people write wishes on kites, begging evil spirits to stay away.

The light yellow fabric — Tefron — used around the stadium is the same used on fishing boats on the Han River.

“[The fabric] is a symbol of the miracle on the Han River, Korea’s great economic revival after the war,” Cheong said.

Funds to build the soccer stadium came from the government, the city of Seoul and the nation’s Olympic Committee and Football (soccer) Association.

“The very poor people who lived on the garbage pit were upset,” said Tok Kyn Yun, who lives nearby and works for the University of Maryland Asian Division. “They had to move, but hundreds of brand-new apartments have been built, and those people are very happy. I live nearby, and the smell used to be terrible when the wind blew hard.”

Yun said he had heard there had been talk of building a 130-floor building — the biggest in the world — next to the stadium.

Soccer is not the national sport in Korea, so the stadium builders went out of their way to make it a multipurpose venue.

“We knew we would eat up taxpayers’ money, so when we asked for a permit to build, we said the stadium was not just for soccer but for all the residents to use,” said Cheong, proud of his creation. “We fulfilled a dream in building it; now the second dream is making it profitable.”

Residents work at the stadium, in the shopping mall and at other facilities.

“Before we built this stadium, the area was an eyesore and the living conditions were very bad,” Cheong said. “From a slum we have created a beautiful place where the real estate prices have doubled. The local people have jobs and have become richer. They now have money and time for leisure. This has created a synergy, and they use the facilities we have built.”

Later this year, the facility will feature a game between Japan and Korea, the K-League’s All-Star soccer match, a musical about the life of Jesus and a visit from a “famous Russia orchestra,” Cheong said.

Cheong said a “digital media city” will be built next to the stadium to attract international businesses.

“People want to come to events at the stadium, to see where their World Cup heroes played,” Cheong said. “We really cash in on that psychology. They just want to see the grass and get close to it.”

The South Korean team stunningly reaching the semifinals of the World Cup last year. The president of Korea at the time, Kim Dae-Jung, said it was the greatest day in the nation’s “5,000 years.”

In fact, the Seoul stadium — one of 20 built by 2002 World Cup co-hosts Japan and South Korea — was the site of only three World Cup games, including the third-place game, which South Korea lost to Turkey 3-2.

According to Cheong, of the 20 venues built for World Cup, the Seoul stadium and one in Japan are the only ones making money.

For soccer fans, the 65,000-seat Seoul World Cup Stadium, with its two giant TV screens, is the largest soccer-only venue in Asia and has an excellent sound system.

“You are so close to the field you can hear the players breathe,” Cheong said. “Whenever the passion for soccer goes down, we can always boost it by holding another game between Japan and South Korea. That always excites people.”

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