Planning officials in Zurich say there is no way the city’s alternative venue for the 2008 European football championships can be completed in time.
It comes as leading Swiss business and tourism officials warn that the planning fiasco could have substantial negative consequences for both Zurich and Switzerland.
Zurich originally planned to host several games at a new stadium in Hardturm, but officials confirmed earlier this week that it could not be completed in time due to legal wrangles.
This left a revamp of the old Letzigrund stadium as the city’s last hope for hosting matches – and that too has now been dashed.
“There is no way the Letzigrund stadium can be rebuilt to host Euro games before March 2008,” Urs Spinner, media spokesman for Zurich’s building department, told swissinfo on Friday.
Uefa, the European football federation, and the Swiss Football Association have insisted that the Letzigrund would have to be completed by September 2007 if it is to be considered as a venue.
Euro 2008 games now look set to be staged exclusively at stadiums in Bern, Basel and Geneva, as well as in the joint host country, Austria.
Maurus Lauber, head of marketing at Zurich Tourism, said the direct financial cost to the city could easily exceed SFr50 million ($40 million).
In addition to lost revenue of SFr12 million for the three games originally scheduled, the city stands to lose far more in spending by spectators, two-thirds of whom would have come from abroad.
However, several leading marketing and financial experts believe the real loss could be even greater.
“The most important thing is the lost marketing opportunity and the fact that Switzerland’s major city has lost considerable face internationally,” said Kaspar Loeb, chief executive of leading Swiss marketing communications agency Publicis.
“Other countries would jump at the chance to host such a major event, and this risks simply confirming the impression that many outsiders already have of Switzerland as a relatively narrow-minded and not very open country in cultural terms.”
Loeb said Zurich had lost a one-off chance to change established prejudices of a city dominated by banking and finance, and to show the outside world that it is really a lively, modern city, where “things happen”.
He added that negative impressions of the Switzerland’s largest city would almost inevitably have an impact on perceptions of the country as a whole.
Guglielmo Brentel, president of Zurich’s hoteliers’ association, took a more guarded approach, saying other Swiss cities could stand to gain from Zurich’s loss.
He suggested that it was probably time the city reviewed its planning procedures.
“How can we explain to the world that the interests of a few and procedural wrangling can block major urban development?” said Brentel.
Thomas Held, the director of Swiss think tank Avenir Suisse, agreed that the planning fiasco gave a very bad impression to potential investors in future projects in Switzerland.
“It seems that, in Switzerland today, things simply do not work like they do in other countries,” he said.
“This shows once again that there is a need for fundamental change in our planning and appeal procedures.
“Zurich is obviously lacking in planning and investment security when not even a positive outcome to a popular vote on a project is enough to secure it.
Credit Suisse, the main investor behind the stalled Hardturm stadium project, is taking the case to the Federal Court.
But Held said he was not convinced that a positive decision alone would clarify the legal situation for future planning wrangles of this kind.
swissinfo, Chris Lewis
Ongoing legal proceedings mean Zurich’s first choice to host Euro 2008 games, a new stadium at Hardturm, will not be ready in time.
Letzigrund, the second choice, would have to be ready by September 2007. This deadline will also be missed.
Experts believe Switzerland misses out far too often in terms of promoting itself abroad.
Zurich planning officials confirm there is no way the existing Letzigrund stadium can be revamped in time for the 2008 tournament.
That means Zurich will lose at least SFr50 million (nearly $40 million)in income.
But experts say the real loss is the blow to investor confidence and the missed chance to promote Zurich as a lively modern city.