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New Letzigrund opening ends Euro 2008 saga

Room to play: inside the new Letzigrund stadium

(Keystone)

Zurich's participation in the 2008 European football championships has finally been guaranteed with the unveiling of the rebuilt Letzigrund stadium.

The city looked like it would miss out on the Euro tournament altogether when plans to rebuild Zurich's other stadium, the Hardturm, were rejected three years ago. But the Letzigrund switch allayed such fears.

Switzerland and Austria are co-hosting the championships that start on June 7 with matches to be staged in Zurich, Geneva, Basel and Bern.

At one stage of the Zurich stadium saga, European football's governing body, Uefa, threatened to take away Switzerland's right to host the tournament. The time lost resolving the issue left builders less than two years to rebuild the Letzigrund.

The speed with which the stadium was torn down and rebuilt has been hailed as a shining example of the cooperation between residents and the city authorities. It was officially opened on Thursday ahead of the annual Weltklasse international athletics meeting on September 7.

Architects sank the new SFr125 million ($103 million) stadium into the ground in the shape of a mussel.

"Thanks to this mussel the city [...] has a pearl," said Kathrin Martelli, head of Zurich's planning department.

"I am pleased that Zurich knows just how important this project is for the city. It is a flagship of a healthy, modern, renewable infrastructure. It demonstrates a city with courage for the future and commitment to future generations."

Hardturm turned down

The new stadium boasts state-of-the-art facilities including a 100-metre indoor practice track, an indoor multi-use hard court, executive boxes with a top end restaurant, two giant screens for replays and an advanced sound system.

The architects also boast that it has met and passed stringent environmental standards.

Parts of the stadium will be open to the general public when it is not staging big events in recognition of the role played by locals in giving the project the green light.

This was not the case in the summer of 2004 when residents and environmentalists halted plans to renovate the Hardturm stadium.

The main sticking points of the original SFr370 million project, which included a 30,000-seat stadium and shopping centre, were parking, traffic congestion and noise.

The Letzigrund plan was finally approved in July 2005 and work started that November. But much of the building had to be delayed until the end of the Weltklasse meeting in August 2006 – the final event to be staged by the old Letzigrund.

The stadium will be the home venue for the city's two football teams, Grasshoppers and FC Zurich, with the first local derby taking place on September 22.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

In brief

Switzerland will co-host the Euro 2008 championships, the second time the country has staged a major football tournament after the 1954 World Cup.

15 of the 31 Euro 2008 matches will be played in Switzerland and 16 in Austria. Switzerland will play the opening match of the tournament at Basel's St Jakob's Park on June 7. The final will be in Vienna on June 29.

Swiss stadiums: Zurich - Letzigrund (30,000 seats); Basel - St Jakob's Park (40,000); Bern - Stade de Suisse (30,000); Geneva - Stade de Genève (30,000 seats).

A Federal Sports Office report in May reckoned the event could generate revenue of SFr1.5 billion ($1.24 billion) with profits of SFr860 million for the country.

end of infobox

The new Letzigrund

The revamped Letzigrund stadium was completed at a cost of SFr125.2 million.

Of this amount, SFr11.3 million were earmarked to ensure that the stadium meets Uefa requirements for the duration of Euro 2008 and SFr3.9 million were needed to make it suitable for Swiss league matches.

The new stadium has a maximum capacity of 30,000 for Euro 2008 matches, 25,000 for Swiss league football matches, 26,000 for athletics meetings and 50,000 for open-air concerts.

It is 255 metres wide and 260 metres long with a 67,000 square-metre surface for football matches, concerts and athletics meetings.

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