SPORTS

Seeking Formula for empty box

Madrid authorities hope to rent out part of barely used Caja Mágica to F1 team

Madrid City Hall has entered negotiations with the HRT Formula 1 team to rent out part of the installations at the Caja Mágica, one of the flagship projects constructed for the capital’s successive failed Olympic bids and the most difficult to justify to tax-payers.

Until last year, the “Magic Box” served as the home of Real Madrid Baloncesto — which for economic and sentimental reasons later returned to its original Palacio de Deportes location in central Madrid — and also hosted junior classes given by the Madrid Tennis Federation, which had its contract rescinded last December due to financial disagreements.

Apart from during one week in May when the WTA and ATP Tours arrive in town for the Madrid Masters, the Caja Mágica is now a beautiful and expensive ghost town that the Madrid authorities want to breathe some life into, and fast. Designed by Dominique Perrault, the Caja Mágica cost 294 million euros, which — like most Madrid building projects — was more than double the original estimate. It was inaugurated in May 2009 as a beacon to guide the 2016 Olympics in the direction of the Spanish capital.

After the Games went to Rio de Janeiro instead and with Real departed, the Madrid Tennis Federation remained the complex’s only tenant. The federation used the five indoor and 16 outdoor courts for group and private classes, but on December 31 its agreement was withdrawn by mutual consent.

According to City Hall, the federation was responsible for the payment of water, electricity and other utilities. These had been unpaid for a year and the federation owed 200,000 euros, City Hall said. But the federation’s president, Miguel Díaz, claimed the authorities had “changed its demands” to “squeeze out more economic benefits.”

Díaz says the federation agreed to cover its own costs and pay a small amount toward the lease. “We couldn’t offer much more because our activity isn’t profitable. The only income is from classes and the rental of the courts. But for us it had social value. There were 500 kids in the tennis school, 90 percent of them from Villaverde, which doesn’t have other facilities of this level. But the economic factor came first.”

City Hall has begun the search for a private management company for the courts. If one is not found before March 31, the complex will be publicly run until one comes forward. The 16 outside courts will be kept, while three of the indoor courts will be converted for padel tennis, a popular sport in Spain. The complex already has 12 indoor padel courts, which are closed for renovation, but expected to reopen in a couple of weeks. There is also a 25-meter swimming pool, a gymnasium, three fitness rooms, three jacuzzis, a sauna and a Turkish bath. All of these are currently closed with no date set for reopening.

It is this area that will be given over to the F1 team. According to City Hall, negotiations with HRT have been going on for some time although there is not yet even a pre-agreement. HRT would house its offices and its engineering team in the complex. At the moment the team is spread out between Germany, Murcia and Valencia. It had been in talks to set up in the BMW-Oracle yachting team’s Americas Cup pavilion in Valencia, but later focused its attention on a move to the capital.

The International Olympic Committee attaches special importance to infrastructure built for the Games reverting to benefit the host city instead of becoming a white elephant afterwards — whether its use be based on sports or not. The Caja Mágica was inaugurated with a concert by Lenny Kravitz and hosted the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2010.

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