But those who worked to bring the World Student Games to Sheffield in 1991 believe the project has more than paid for itself and transformed the city.
Sheffield forked out over £100m in construction and running costs for the games. The total cost including interest and refinancing has been £658 million, due to finally be paid off in the 2023-24 financial year.
But those who played major roles in the games and its legacy say it will have soon attracted around £750million in subsequent investment – and brought many benefits to the city it helped transform.
The games, from July 14 to July 25, 1991, saw the redevelopment of derelict former steelworks land. But its centrepiece Don Valley stadium was demolished less than 25 years after it had hosted the opening ceremony.
Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts was Sheffield Council leader in 1991. He said as well as the sports venues, money borrowed for the games paid for the restoration of the Lyceum Theatre and Hyde Park Flats.
Remembering the games, he said: “I think there was a great buzz and excitement in the city, and it brought people together.
“The volunteering programme was incredible – so many people joining us in the spirit of the games.
“Visitors said it was such a friendly city.
“It was a massive project – the first multi-sports event in England since the 1948 Olympics. There was a lot of work done with international sports organisations, and it went incredibly well.”
He added: “It gave the city the Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield Arena, Ponds Forge, Hillsborough Leisure Centre and the Graves Tennis Centre. The funding also paid for the refurbishment of the Lyceum and Hyde Park flats.
“Hillsborough Pool had the water polo. Hyde Park was the athletes village.
“The stadium was an iconic facility. Sadly the reality was that it was losing money and not getting the events it needed, which was why it had to be demolished later.
“The event itself cost £10 million.
“The total amount for all the buildings as well was about £130 million.”
He said the debt would have been repaid by now, but the council later remortgaged the debt.
He added: “The legacy has been 30 years of engagements at the facilities we built. It also gave the city the ability to go on and do other things, like setting up the English Institute of Sport (EIS). We have the Sheffield Steelers and Sheffield Sharks playing in the facilities that were built. There was a real coming together of private sector and public sector after the closure of engineering and steel.
“It was a focus for the city to come together.”
Richard Caborn was MP for Sheffield Central in 1991 – and a volunteer during the games. He was later chairman of the Sheffield City Trust, which took over running of the venues after the games.
Thirty years on, he is now in charge of its successor – the Olympic Legacy Park. The legacy park occupies the site of the former Don Valley Stadium, demolished in 2014 during austerity, despite a campaign to keep it open. He said the stadium had been losing £750,000 a year and needed money spending on it.
He sees the games as an important part of the transformation of the East End of Sheffield, with the stadium built on the former Brown-Bayley steelworks, derelict in the 1980s.
He believes what is now happening on the legacy park would not have happened without the games.
It already has a school, the EIS, and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre. A community stadium is being built on the site.
In January, it was announced that new health care, regeneration and sporting projects totalling more than £200m would be developed on the site, with projects including a National Centre for Child Health Technology; and a diagnostic imaging research hub, in a building shared with a 3,900 seater basketball arena.
He believes the planned National Centre for Child Health Technology will position the UK as a global leader in paediatrics and child health.
The next major phase of the scheme aims to set up manufacturing facilities along Broughton Lane, making products using the knowledge developed at the research centres.
Mr Caborn said: “The next thing is to take research and use it.”
He said the student games had been done before lottery funding was available. But the current redevelopment of the site was being funded by public money and private money. Public money has come through projects like the Oasis University Technical College on the site, and from the universities and health service.
He said investment would soon be over £750,000
He said: “The English Institute of Sport has come from what we did with the games.
"If you look at the investment and economic impact that came out of the games, we have more than had the money we spent back many times.
“When we have the second phase, it will be £750 million investment put in. When you start looking at that type of spin off. I think it was a long term investment.”
Current council leader, Terry Fox, said over 1,500 national, European and world sporting events have been hosted in the 30 years since the games, attracting millions of users and visitors to the city and venues, £1billion into the local economy. This was based on a recent economic impact study stating over £32m per year is generated in the local economy as a result of the venues’ operations, and calculating that over 30 years.
He said: “At a time of industrial decline, the event was a turning point in Sheffield’s history, presenting a new start and a new image for the city.
“As part of the ongoing long term finance agreement some borrowing is still being repaid and is within the city's annual budget plans.”