May 2, 2013 5:07 pm

Fortaleza first city to strike World Cup goal for Brazil

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partial view of the Castelao stadium during its construction, in Fortaleza, in the Brazilian state of Ceara. The stadium will host matches of the Confederation's Cup football tournament next year and of the FIFA World Cup in 2014.©AFP

When Brazil’s great “temple of football”, the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, reopened at the weekend, only two of its entrances were complete, some seats were still missing and the surrounding area resembled a building site.

But with President Dilma Rousseff among the crowd, and the opening game between teams led by former Brazil strikers Ronaldo and Bebeto, the spiritual home of Brazilian football stole the limelight. Next year it will host the World Cup final for the first time since 1950.

More than 2,000km to the north, however, the smaller and poorer seaside city of Fortaleza is perhaps more worthy of attention.

Unlike the Maracanã, which in spite of the flashy reopening is still unfinished and behind schedule, Fortaleza is the first of the 12 Brazilian cities that will host World Cup matches to fully refurbish its stadium. Not only that, it has done so with no cost overruns and in the record time of about 20 months – well ahead of the Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal for the World Cup, which starts next month.

“Normally for a stadium with 60,000 seats it takes on average 36 months to build it,” said Ronald Werner, the architect from Vigliecca & Associates in São Paulo that designed the building.

Fortaleza’s attractive venue, the Arena Castelão, could set a precedent for other sporting public works, as the government prepares to host the Olympics two years after the World Cup. It could also be an example of how to roll out large projects in general – the government is struggling to push forward a R$985bn (US$492bn) programme to overhaul the nation’s creaking infrastructure.

While the state is investing R$7.1bn in stadiums for the World Cup, the huge sums have not prevented delays and excess costs.

Of the six cities participating in the Confederations Cup, three missed a December 31 Fifa deadline for completion and a subsequent extension to April 15, including Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and Recife.

Jerome Valcke, Fifa general secretary, warned last month there could be no such delays for the World Cup, which would have four times more matches and be attended by 3m spectators, including 500,000 foreigners. “The deadline for the Fifa World Cup stadiums delivery stands firm as December 2013. There will be no compromise,” he said.

Originally, Fortaleza also expected delays. Not only was the tender process late but the builders did not get access to the existing stadium until April 2011, less than two years before the deadline, according to Mr Werner.

But from there, the government, architects and Galvão Enghenaria, the construction company, resolved to speed things up. They simplified the project, building it in distinct parts so that one stage would not have to wait for the other. There was also an office representing the various government departments at the site, cutting decision times from months to weeks.

At one point the project was threatened by strikes. But the builder and government quickly reached an agreement with unions for a pay rise.

At a cost of R$519m for nearly 64,000 seats, the project came in within budget and cheaper per seat than the Maracanã, which is costing R$808m for fewer than 80,000 seats, or Brasília – R$1bn for 72,000 seats.

“We were the cheapest and we did not have any additional, unplanned expenses,” said Ferruccio Feitosa, the World Cup secretary for the state of Ceará, of which Fortaleza is the capital.

Seen from the air, Fortaleza’s Castelão stadium looks a giant sea anemone with a huge plaza at one end. Unlike Brasília, which has no major teams based in its stadium, the future is looking bright for the Castelão, with three major clubs playing in it. Paul McCartney is due to perform there next week, raising hopes of other revenue sources.

It has not all been smooth going. Two fans were shot dead while on their way to one of the stadium’s warm-up games in April, highlighting security concerns in Brazil’s northeast. And experts doubt Fortaleza’s success is easily transferable to the rest of Brazil.

“It depends a lot on the state government, if the state exerts its influence a project will move ahead,” said Eduardo Padilha, professor of infrastructure at Insper, a private university.

There may be another, more idiosyncratic, factor at play – local pride. In the neighbouring Brazilian city of Salvador, whose newly overhauled Fonte Nova arena was also ready on time, workers break down in tears when talking about what they have built.

“This will last for 100 to 150 years,” says one, turning his face away to disguise his emotion.

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