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The BBC's Karen Hoggan
"For the Dome it is all too late"
 real 56k

Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 17:13 GMT
Dome ready to slip away
The Faith Zone in the Dome
Some had, some hadn't, plenty of the above
If a week is a long time in politics, then the troubled year in the lifetime of the Millennium Dome must be an eternity.

When the doors close to the public for the last time on Sunday, 31 December, so the curtain will fall on a turbulent 12 months for the operators and the Labour government.

Ironically, visitor numbers have rocketed in the past few days, bringing to mind the analogy of the pop star, actor or author who finds fame only after death.

Saturday saw about 32,000 people pack into the Dome. Some 30,000 are expected on Sunday.

Interest spiralled too in November after the alleged attempt to use a bulldozer to steal the world's largest diamond (which, it transpired, was not the real thing anyway).

Price of the Dome
Latest estimated total: 854m
February: 60m emergency grant from Millennium Commission
May: 29m from commission
43m from commission
September: 47m from commission
The year-long attendance figure will come close to 6.5m, more than twice as many as that of top attractions such as Alton Towers or Madame Tussauds.

But it falls well short of the 12 million originally forecast by the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), which runs the Dome.

The inaccuracy of the prediction resulted in the company repeatedly going cap in hand to the National Lottery for more money.

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau
PY Gerbeau: "Political football"
Chief executive Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, the man brought in from Euro Disney in February to replace the original incumbent, Jennie Page, said the figure had been way out.

"There was no market potential for 12 million.

"The forecast figure should have been 3.5m to 6.5 or 7m," he said.

He also said the Dome had been a political football and the involvement of politicians had been unhelpful.

Party fiasco

Jennie Page carried the can for poor initial attendances as well as the Dome's Millennium Eve opening night fiasco in which hundreds of guests had to wait hours at Stratford station, east London, before getting to the party.

Ms Page's departure coincided with the first call for more Lottery money, when 60m was pumped in.

May saw management changes with Nmec chairman Bob Ayling forced to resign.

Tony Blair and John Prescott looking at a Dome model
Ministers stuck by the Dome
He was replaced by David Quarmby who gave way in September to company troubleshooter David James.

Things got even worse for the Dome later in September when Japanese finance group Nomura, the government's preferred bidder to take over the site in 2001, pulled out of the deal.

Ministers turned to the Legacy company, which had been the runner-up in the bid battle.

Later, Legacy was given preferred bidder status for its 125m plan to turn the Dome into a hi-tech business city in a venture which could create 14,000 jobs over three years.

Housing row

But true to form, controversy was not far away. Earlier this week, it emerged that the company could earn 200m if it sells off just some of the land for an exclusive housing development.

The Tories complained of "cronyism" because Legacy was founded by Robert Bourne, a Labour party donor and property developer.

And yet the criticism appears to have created a wartime camaraderie among the Dome's staff.

Partially-built Dome at sunrise
The interior of the Dome will be dismantled
Edward McGregor, a host, declared: "What has got me through is a mixture of cynicism and sheer determination.

His colleague, Carol Malion, said: "It's been the best year of my life.

"Nearly 70 per cent of the people working here have come off the dole," she pointed out.

The doors close at the Dome about 1900 GMT on Sunday after a low-key finale without any razzmatazz. Later, there will be a private New Year party.

At 2100 GMT the London nightclub, Ministry of Sound, will hold a 12-hour long New Year's Eve "rave" in the grounds.

The contents of the Dome are to be auctioned in a sale that could yield up to 10m.

Work on dismantling much of the interior will start in January and Legacy is expected to take over at the end of February.

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See also:

19 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Blair pays tribute to Dome staff
20 Nov 00 | Business
Legacy given Dome go-ahead
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