Plans for revamped Dome unveiled

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The Millennium Dome is to be renamed The O2 after the mobile phone company today joined forces with the American entertainment group that is turning the south London facility into a major events arena.

The Millennium Dome is to be renamed The O2 after the mobile phone company today joined forces with the American entertainment group that is turning the south London facility into a major events arena.

The O2 deal with the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) will be worth £6 million a year, with the new-look dome in Greenwich due to open in April 2007.

The dome, which enjoyed a torrid year of public opening in 2000, will be turned into a 23,000-capacity indoor arena that will host up to 150 music, entertainment and sports events in its first year.

There will be special concessions for O2 users, including fast-track entry, special VIP areas and even massage areas.

Work has already started on the inside of the dome and AEG is confident that the April 2007 opening date - a much later start than was originally envisaged - can be met.

Today AEG, in a presentation at Canary Wharf in London's Docklands overlooking the dome, said that the calibre of artists who could feature at the Greenwich facility would be the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and U2. In its guise as the world's second largest live entertainment organisation, AEG has recently featured events at which Sir Elton John, the Eagles, Prince and Coldplay have appeared.

The new dome, which is part of a £2 billion regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsula, will feature 10 restaurants, eight bars, a British music hall of fame, a Jazz and Blues street, a 1,800-seat theatre, and a 2,200-capacity music club.

There will also be 10 cinema screens and it is hoped that film premieres will be staged at the dome.

There will also be an ice rink, and sporting events could include boxing, gymnastics, figure skating and tennis.

Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG, which currently sponsors, among others,Arsenal Football Club and England's rugby team, said today: "We have long beenfascinated with London and Britain is the heart and soul of live music. But weare amazed that Britain does not have a world-class events facility."

David Campbell, chief executive of AEG Europe, said: "The O2 will be designed for music, offering great acoustics for the performers and modern facilities for the fans."

He said AEG was finalising its first events at the dome and would make announcements in coming weeks and months.

As soon as the new dome opens, responsibility for it will pass from current owners, the Government's regeneration agency English Partnerships, to AEG and its regeneration partner Meridian Delta Ltd.

The Greenwich redevelopment includes new offices, 10,000 new homes, a hotel, a health centre, a school and improved transport links.

The Government has said the Greenwich regeneration will raise £550million for the public purse over the next 25 years.

The dome was beset with problems during its year of opening with organisers New Millennium Experience Company budgeting for 12million visitors but getting only just half that number.

This led to continuous calls for more money from National Lottery funds and red faces for the Labour Government which had eagerly supported the project.

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