The curse of the Millennium Dome looked likely to strike again yesterday when the owner of the London Arena said the venue might have to close to ensure the renaissance of its unloved neighbour.
The future of the Arena in London Docklands, which has played host to the likes of Robbie Williams, Eminem and Britney Spears, is in doubt because its co-owner, the Anschutz Entertainment Group, is part of the £200m bid to transform the Dome into a sports and entertainment complex.
A spokesman for Anschutz admitted that saving the Dome might prove the end of the Arena, which went into receivership in 1991, only two years after it opened, and was forced to fight its way into the black. "The future of the London Arena is being considered," he said.
Part of the equation depends on the London Knights ice hockey team, which is owned by Anschutz. Ice hockey provides about 10 per cent of the business at the Arena. If the Government eventually confirms the sale to Anschutz, which is sole preferred bidder with the Meridian Delta consortium, the London Knights team is likely to move to the new venue.
SMG Europe, which co-owns and manages the Arena, said bookings had been taken for as far ahead as May 2003.
Figures published yesterday by the English Tourism Council show the Dome was far and away the most popular paid-for visitor attraction in 2000. It received 6.5 million visitors, nearly double the number for the London Eye in second place. The popular success of the two millennium projects came in a year that saw a decline in visitors at nearly every other top attraction, with the exception of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The museum is now on a roll thanks to the abolition of admission charges and some dramatic new galleries, but the figures suggest it was already showing signs of an upturn with a 7.4 per cent rise on 1999. It leapt 10 places in the admission-charging table to ninth place.
Overall visits to UK attractions in 2000 totalled 413 million, 2 per cent down on 1999. Competition from the millennium projects, the fuel crisis and poor weather all contributed.
The domestic market held firm but a fall-off in overseas tourism caused difficulties for attractions dependent on foreign visitors, such as cathedrals and historic houses.
A spokeswoman for the English Tourism Council said: "The millennium brought mixed fortunes to the attractions sector. While increased investment gave many attractions a boost, heightened competition for visitors posed new challenges for many existing attractions." Attractions would clearly have to continue to be innovative to hold on to business, she said. "Targeting the domestic market will also be key to their success in the current climate post 11 September."
The most popular free attraction in 2000 was Blackpool Pleasure Beach with 6.8 million visits.