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Revival of London Venue Planned

Staples Center's owner intends to transform the dormant Millennium Dome into a thriving entertainment, sports and concert center.

June 02, 2005|Sarah Price Brown | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — The owner of Staples Center will try to bring life and profit to London's Millennium Dome, a landmark structure built for celebrations in 2000 that had become something of a white elephant and embarrassment for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government.

Anschutz Entertainment Group has unveiled plans for a nearly $1-billion music and sports arena underneath the white fiberglass tent. Stretching across 1.2 million square feet of southeast London, the arena will have six floors and seat 23,000.

The dome, built by the government to usher in the new millennium, has stood unused since 2000. AEG has torn down the original exhibition structures inside, turning the dome into an empty shell in preparation for the new construction.

AEG says the revived center, scheduled for completion in 2007, will include a music hall of fame, exhibition space, intimate music club, 10-screen movie theater, ice rink, restaurants, bars and, if the government allows, a casino.

It would amount to "a city within a city," said Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive of AEG, at a news conference last week.

The company, which owns a share of the Lakers and operates the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, faces the challenge of revitalizing a structure that is widely seen as a waste of money. The government spent $1.2 billion building the pavilion, and taxpayers have paid more than $54 million since to maintain the structure. The dome's millennium exhibitions, which sought to explore the human condition at the turn of the century, attracted fewer than half the expected 12 million visitors.

But things will be different, Leiweke said. "The issue was not the dome. The issue was the content in the dome," he said.

The new venue will have concerts by top-name artists such as U2, Madonna and Britney Spears, company officials said. "It's all about putting music first," said David Campbell, president and chief executive of AEG Europe.

Last week, the International Gymnastics Federation chose the dome to hold the 2009 World Gymnastics Championships, a "real boost to our 2012 bid," London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, said in statement, referring to the city's effort to attract the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Construction began in February, just in time for an evaluation visit to London by the International Olympic Committee. If London is chosen as Olympic host, the basketball and gymnastics competitions would be held in the dome.

Another proposal is to use the facility for major movie premieres.

AEG will not pay for the land but only for the new construction, Leiweke said. The British government will receive a portion of the profits. The government hopes to net more than $1 billion over the next 25 years, the Guardian newspaper reported.

AEG is renaming the dome The O2 after the British mobile phone service provider. O2 has agreed to pay almost $11 million a year for the naming rights for at least six years, starting in 2007.

AEG's attempt to revive the dome is part of a nearly $4-billion long-term project to develop an area of southeast London known as the Greenwich peninsula. Developers have received permission to build offices, schools and 10,000 homes, said Chris Roberts, leader of the Greenwich local council.

"We have seen it as the catalyst, really, for what will make people decide to live" in the area, Roberts said.

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