Work begins on London Olympic tower


LONDON -- London mayor Boris Johnson helped break ground on spiral tower to be built next to the 2012 Olympic Stadium.

Work began on the 337-foot ArcelorMittal Orbit on Thursday. Johnson said the tower will be an attraction to draw people to the Olympic Park after the 2012 Games are over.

Johnson said businesses will be attracted to the park, which Prime Minister David Cameron wants to rival California's Silicon Valley as a home for leading technology companies.

"I wanted something that would serve as a focus that people would want to come to in Games-time and in legacy," Johnson said, "because the risk of Olympic sites around the world is that you build these knockout stadiums and all that but you don't really create an urban pole of attraction, somewhere people might actually want to come."

The style of the Anish Kapoor-designed twisting tower has attracted barbs from some art critics, but Johnson believes it can work only in its favor.

"Like it or not, it's something people will be interested in looking at," Johnson said.

Lakshmi Mittal is contributing $24 million to the $29 million project, which came about following a chance meeting between the steel magnate and Johnson in a coatroom at last year's World Economic Forum.

Mittal, rated the world's fifth-richest man by Forbes with an estimated wealth of $28.7 billion, agreed to provide the steel for the building, which will sit between the Olympic Stadium and Aquatic Center.

"When we met in 2009, I thought it was a casual chat," Mittal said. "When we began the project, it looked like a very long and complex process. There were hundreds and hundreds of questions. I thought this project would never see the light of day."

Johnson was confident people will be able to travel to the park without problems.

Workers on London's Underground went on strike this week for the third time in three months in protest at plans to cut 800 jobs.

London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton has ruled out any desire to obtain emergency legislation to outlaw striking by key services during the Olympics, but Johnson said all issues will be long resolved by the time of the 2012 Olympics.

"If you look at the dispute going on the Tube, these are the last big changes we've got to make before 2012," Johnson said.