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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 17:25 GMT
Rocky road to centre stage
Original plans for the Wales Millennium Centre
Original plans show the centre has turned out much as planned
The Wales Millennium Centre has become the latest addition to the nation's drive to raise its worldwide profile.

With a 106m price tag it is Wales' first dedicated national venue for opera and the arts.

But the road to the lavish opening ceremony in Cardiff Bay was strewn with political and financial obstacles.

It began in earnest in 1995 when an international contest was held to find the architect to design what was then called the Cardiff Bay Opera House.

The Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid won the contest - but then the problems began.

The Millennium Commission, which was responsible for distributing lottery money to projects celebrating the arrival of the year 2000, decided her project was too big and risky, and it was rejected.

But it returned to the drawing board with a second international search for a designer.

'Artificial deadline'

By this time the project had a new name: the Wales Millennium Centre.

Wales Millennium Centre
'In these stones horizons sing,' is the English inscription
This time Cardiff-based firm Percy Thomas was selected to draw up the plans. But a bumpy ride still lay ahead.

Landowner Grosvenor Waterside got tired of the delays and setbacks and threatened to put the site back on the market.

Local MP Alun Michael thought Grosvenor Waterside needed to be more patient.

"I believe that it's an artificial deadline that they are setting," said the Cardiff South and Penarth MP at the time, in late 2000.

"They should wait until the new year (2001). If the centre is not completed on the land deal by then it might be reasonable for them to go out and market it."

The situation got worse when the Welsh Assembly Government said it wanted the cost brought down after it jumped from 75m to 100m. The result was the building was cut in size.

But architect Jonathan Adams said: "At the moment it's still going to take very much the form we'd originally proposed, albeit slightly smaller.

"But I think for the vast majority of the people coming to the building they will recognise it as the one that's been published."

The drama behind the construction of the centre has been played out in public and behind the scenes for the best part of a decade.

Now that the drawn-out saga of Act One is over, Act Two begins with a flourish.

But with concerns over whether the centre can fill enough seats, Wales will hope there is a happy ending.

How the centre hopes to appeal to a wide audience

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