Disappointing Millennium Dome to shut Jan. 1

LONDON -- The financially beleaguered Millennium Dome here, billed as the centerpiece of the British capital's Year 2000 celebrations, will close to the public on Jan. 1, following a year of disappointing attendance and low revenues.

The dome, which cost $22 million to construct and more than $600 million to fill with 14 themed exhibit areas and performances, had expected to attract 1 million visitors each month during 2000, or 12 million visitors.

Time is running out on the Millennium Dome.But the yearlong tally of admission-paying visitors to the dome reached just 5 million, and the British government was forced to kick in $280 million in lottery funding last summer to keep the facility up and running through New Year's Eve.

The dome is located in Greenwich, about a 20-minute underground ride from central London.

It was slated to exist as an arts venue for just one year and then be sold and used for other purposes, but its owner and operator, London-based New Millennium Experience Co. (NMEC), had expected to have a firm deal on the table by now.

A spokeswoman for the NMEC estimated the sale price for the dome structure would be in the $200 million range and the likely buyer is London-based property developer Legacy.

"Legacy is the preferred bidder right now, and they want to turn the dome into a high-tech business park -- sort of the 'Silicon Alley of Greenwich,' " she said, adding that no contract has been signed yet with Legacy.

"We don't expect anything to be settled until later in 2001."

Meanwhile, Henry Butcher & Co., a London valuation concern, is said to be reviewing the contents of the dome with an eye toward setting up an auction in late February; Legacy has said it wants the dome, but wants it empty.

Prospective buyers of the contents are theme parks and museums.

Also for sale will be lighting and sound equipment and the complex apparatus used in the staging of the Millennium Show -- the focal point of the dome. As the London Evening Standard put it recently: "Everything is for sale, right down to the kitchen sinks."

Even with its troubles, the dome still will end this year as Britain's most popular paid-for attraction, officials said.

But admission pricing might have been part of its problem; at about $30 per person, it proved a costly day trip for families.

As one taxi driver in London told Travel Weekly last fall: "For less than that, I can take my kids to Legoland," the popular theme park near Windsor.

The closing of the dome will begin on Jan. 2, when loaned exhibits will begin to be dismantled and returned to their owners.

"We will first dispose of those things that do not belong to us, then auction the rest," said the NMEC.

The bulk of the 1,800 employees who have worked at the dome all year finish on New Year's Eve and recruitment fairs are being held to help find them jobs, according to the NMEC.

The dome's Web site is located at www.dome2000.co.uk.

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