Dome will be Japanese-owned amusement park centre

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The Independent Online

An "urban entertainment resort", featuring virtual reality computer games, The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and interactive art galleries, is expected to be chosen today to replace the Millennium Dome.

An "urban entertainment resort", featuring virtual reality computer games, The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and interactive art galleries, is expected to be chosen today to replace the Millennium Dome.

A ministerial committee deciding the Dome's future, chaired by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is due to meet this morning and is expected to select the bid by the Japanese bank Nomura to build a hi-tech amusement park, with restaurants, shops and a hotel on the site.

It is thought that the bid by Nomura, called Dome Europe, will attract up to six million paying visitors annually - the same figure now expected for the Dome this year.

Ministers on Mr Prescott's committee and senior officials in the Millennium Commission are said to have been impressed by the "speed and deliverability" of Dome Europe's bid. The final decision will be confirmed by the Cabinet and is expected to be announced tomorrow.

The concept is based partly on new hi-tech amusement parks in Tokyo and San Francisco run by Nomura's partner in Dome Europe, Hyper-Entertainments, a division of Sony. Its "Mediage" park in Tokyo is attracting a million visitors a month and "Metreon" in San Francisco is expected to get eight million in its first year.

Dome Europe has told ministers it will make an interim payment as soon as the sale contract is completed this autumn to help meet the Millennium Dome's £89m debts, incurred when its visitor figures crashed. Ministers expect to recoup at least £30m for other lottery projects.

Dome Europe will also begin constructing its attractions from September and start hiring staff this autumn. It plans to retain many of the 4,000 existing floor staff at the Dome, and will keep some of the existing Dome zones.

This proposal echoes suggestions from ministers in May, at the height of the crisis over the extra £29m grant needed to prevent the Dome from closure, that the Dome could be sold early and taken over by its new owners to help cut its losses.

Although the New Millennium Experience Company will run the Dome until 31 December as planned, Dome Europe told ministers that the site will be closed for only two to three months. It will spend this time retraining staff.

The Government's decision will be a severe disappointment to Robert Bourne, a property tycoon and Labour Party sponsor, who headed the rival bid, called Legacy, to build a new technology park at the Dome. The bid was supported by Imperial College and the Open University.

Legacy's ambitious plan involved turning the Dome into a prestigious technology park, in line with the Government's dreams of making the UK a world leader in digital industries. It would have meant partially closing the site in phases while the existing exhibits were stripped out and new office units built.

There are still disputes about the sums bid by Dome Europe and Legacy, which give the winner a 999-year lease on the prime 50-acre site on the Thames. It is understood the £102m bid linked to Legacy would involve Legacy earning large sums in rental income from businesses it attracts.

Dome Europe has bid a much lower sum than the £275m its supporters claimed last week. Instead, its bid, which is understood to be higher than £100m, will also include a "profits share" element, by which the Government will earn more if the Dome Europe park is a greater success than expected. Some analysts predict it could eventually attract eight million visitors.

Last night, Mr Bourne insisted his bid was still in the running. "I'm passionate about it and remain pretty confident. I still think we've still got an excellent chance," he said.

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