KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government has spent more than US$116 million upgrading its sports arenas at Bukit Jalil, now collectively known as Kuala Lumpur Sports City, to deliver world-class facilities in time for the Southeast Asian Games on Aug 19 and the ASEAN Para Games in September.
This is the national sports hub's first facelift since it was launched in 1998 for the Commonwealth Games.
Upgrades include new seats at stadiums and all-new equipment at the aquatic centre's pools, as well as a newly-installed FINA-compliant diving tower.
"We (went) through this benchmarking exercise where we visited at least 40 different stadiums and venues around the world - in Europe and the UK,” KL Sports City project director S Nalgunalingam told Channel NewsAsia.
“We are very happy with what we have achieved here in 15 months."
The US$26 million-second phase of renovations - to continue after the SEA Games - will include building a youth park, convention centre, retail mall, among others.
Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin told Channel NewsAsia the previous facilities were badly designed and were not attracting visitors - but he plans to change all that.
"We're going to open some of the facilities to the public so they can run on the track, they can enjoy the stadium, they can really spend an entire day here of sports and recreation," he said.
"So we've re-imagined this whole place from a sports facility that you go to and you leave as quickly as possible, to (one) where it's a destination - a lifestyle destination for Malaysians."
In July, the Bukit Jalil National Stadium was shortlisted for a World Architecture Festival Award after getting a new facade designed by global architecture firm Populous.
"We're one of the few projects nominated across the globe ... We're very excited about it and we'll be presenting a paper in Berlin in November and hopefully we'll be able to win the award," said Mr Nalgunalingam.
Some SEA Games events will be held outside Bukit jalil, such as track cycling, which will be at Southeast Asia's first indoor velodrome in Negeri Sembilan.
The US$23-million arena, which was launched in May this year by Malaysia's own keirin world champion Azizulhasni Awang, can accommodate up to 2,000 spectators at a time.
Winter sports, which will be making its SEA Games debut, will be held at a new Olympic-sized ice skating rink in a shopping mall in the central state of Selangor.
The new venues were built with the long-term goal of developing the sport in mind.
"The only problem (for ice hockey) was there was no venue, so you couldn't really play the sport," said national coach Kristoff Kovago. "So now the federation's doing a good job at promoting the sport via the facility."
There has been concern if the venues such as the new ice rink could be completed with sufficient time for training and technical runs ahead of the Games - with some handovers scheduled weeks away from the start of the event.
However, developers say training has already begun at the facilities and there is even enough time for athletes to get their "home ground advantage".