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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
White elephant 'not forgotten'
By Liam Allen
BBC News

The owners of what was once the Millennium Dome have opened up the building to show progress being made in its redevelopment.

But can they get away from the white elephant image of its predecessor?

An artist's impression of the entrance to The O2

Much has been written about the failure of the National Lottery-funded Dome which opened in 2000 to celebrate the Millennium.

But, as the year-long Millennium Experience exhibition failed to pull in the visitors, the attraction began to lose money.

The 758m Dome closed as planned at the end of 2000 having pulled in just over half of the predicted 12 million visitors.

In 2002, a public consultation on lottery funding concluded: "There is (public) agreement that the (Millennium) Dome was a waste of good causes funds and that this project in itself has tarnished the supply of funds to large capital projects."

All of which must surely make David Campbell a brave man.

'Entertainment city'

Mr Campbell is president and chief executive of AEG Europe, owners of the Dome, or The O2 as it is now known.

'Giant street' with shops and bars and restaurants
11 cinema screens
Exhibition and theatre space
23,000 seat multi-purpose arena
Arena to host events at London 2012 Olympics
Can host anything from pop to ice hockey

On Wednesday, he showed journalists the progress being made on the 600m project, part of a 4bn regeneration of the Greenwich area.

He is at pains to stress that the roof of the building itself is "the only thing that remains that was".

AEG, which owns arenas and franchises around the world, including the LA Lakers and the David Beckham Academy, is building "from the bottom up" what it calls an entertainment city.

It includes a 23,000 multi-purpose arena, a shopping street "the length of Bond Street", a 2,000-capacity live music club, an 11-screen cinema and exhibition and theatre spaces.

"You'd have to be foolish to say this wasn't a brave thing to do," he said. "But it's calculated."

His company had operated in similar ways in other parts of the world, always having "successes in similar competitive markets", he explained.

"We haven't eliminated all risks but we've put ourselves in a better position," he added.

No 'dome'

On the new name - The O2 - Mr Campbell said that was obviously partly to do with the sponsorship deal with the mobile phone giant.

But the word 'dome' had been left out intentionally.

The O2 arena stage
Before and after: The arena stage now and how it should look

"From our standpoint we want to completely re-establish the place.

"The building is a great iconic building in London but that's the only thing that remains from what was.

"People accept that what happened at the dome was a temporary exhibition but we're talking about a permanent entertainment city.

"We don't want any reference point back to the Dome. We want to have a very clean break from the past."

Inside the Dome building, the scale of the new central arena area is colossal.

There is still a great deal of work to be done - the project is due for completion in July 2007 - but the shape of the 23,000-capacity arena is already recognisable.

AEG hopes to attract the biggest names in music and sport to play at an arena that can hold "any event you can think of".

He said the Dome would host gymnastics and basketball in the 2012 Olympics.

'Good things'

But despite journalists asking Mr Campbell a barrage of questions about the logistics of his company's huge undertaking, the subject matter keeps coming back to the development's past.

AEG's David Campbell
In many ways, the fact that it's called the white elephant and the reputation it has is a good thing because the only way we can go is up
David Campbell

"It's nothing to do with me!" he says at one point, exasperated by the media pack's inability to stay on the subject of the Dome mark two.

"I think it was unfortunate but there's good things that have come out of it," he says.

"It's good that six-and-a-half million people visited - even though that was well below estimates - which made it the biggest tourist attraction in the UK and the second biggest in Europe."

And "strong programmes" for employing local people, initiated during the Dome's building, had been continued with the new development, he added.

"With the Millennium Dome, just under 10% of workers came from the borough of Greenwich and we've carried that on with just under 30% from the borough."

As the tour came to a close, Mr Campbell pointed out another positive to come out of the Dome's failure.

"In many ways, the fact that it's called the white elephant and the reputation it has is a good thing because the only way we can go is up.

"It's got a fairly low base to start from."

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