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Anschutz in Dome mode

Sports, music giant to create complex

LONDON — London’s Millennium Dome will be renamed The 02 after the U.K.-based telco inked a deal with Anschutz Entertainment Group to create what they are touting as Europe’s biggest entertainment complex.

AEG will spend around $914 million to construct a 23,000-seat arena inside the Dome, a 2,200-seat O2-branded live music club, an 1,800-seat theater, a 10-screen cinema and various restaurants, clubs and bars.

The complex also will be home to the British Music Hall of Fame.

AEG hopes to steal premiere business from Leicester Square, the heart of London moviegoing; at the Dome guests would be able to attend premieres and after-show parties within the same complex.

O2 will pay AEG $11 million per year for the naming rights in a multiyear agreement, though it would not reveal the duration of the deal.

The Dome was the government’s big millennium showcase, a vast tented structure to house various exhibitions. But it came under fierce criticism for failing to open on time, being massively over budget and attracting only 6 million visitors vs. projections of twice that.

With costs for its upkeep spiraling, the government is giving the Dome and surrounding site to AEG and its development partner Meridian Delta in return for a share of the profits for 20 years, which it claims could add up to $1 billion.

The commercial contracts for the development were signed June 2004 between the government’s regeneration agency English Partnerships, the London borough of Greenwich (in which the Dome is located), AEG and Meridian Delta.

The complex, part of a $3.7 billion regeneration of the area, is due to open in April 2007, according to AEG prexy-chief exec Tim Leiweke, when responsibility for the Dome will pass from English Partnerships to AEG and Meridian Delta.

Until then, the British taxpayer will continue to pay for its maintenance.

Likening the O2 to Los Angeles’ Staples Center, which AEG opened six years ago, Leiweke said: “We built that in an area where people said nobody would go — downtown L.A. — that’s now the most successful arena in the world. We’ll use it as a prototype for London.”

Leiweke said AEG had spent five years trying to find a site in London.

Work inside the Dome has already started, with Leiweke revealing the government had asked AEG to begin early so the Intl. Olympic Committee would consider it as part of London’s bid for the 2012 Summer Games.

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