Dealing with the Dome’s detritus

Some reckon Nomura will fail in its bid to turn the Dome into an urban entertainment centre, as its success will embarrass Labour. Whoever wins must first consider what to do with its current exhibits.

When the Millennium exhibition at the Millennium Dome ends on December 31, an interesting problem will have to be dealt with: what to do with the exhibits. There will be dozens of homeless weird shaped structures, a 64 metre-long reclining pink body, odd-looking contraptions, and scores of brand logos.

Could this millennial bric-a-brac come under the hammer in the auction of the century? Or should it be stacked on a big bonfire on the Greenwich peninsula and go up in a puff of smoke?

There is some confusion over who will be charged with disposing the Dome’s contents. English Partnerships, the government agency which is overseeing the sale of the Dome, says it will be the responsibility of the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC). But an NMEC spokesman says: “English Partnerships has got it wrong. The sale includes all the contents except the Journey and Talk zones, which are the responsibility of Imagination [the design agency].”

No doubt this will be a matter for Lord Falconer, Cabinet office minister responsible for the Dome, to sort out. Until he does, it is hard to find anyone to say what will happen to the Dome’s contents, which have cost £150m to construct. (Suggestions on a postcard, please).

But some of the zones and exhibits may be saved by Guy Hands, managing director of Japanese bank Nomura’s principal finance division, who has spent the past two years developing plans to take over the Dome and turn it into an “urban entertainment centre”.

Last week, Hands attended the Parliamentary Select Committee hearing on the future uses of the Dome. Nomura’s Dome Europe proposal is vying with another bid from Legacy – which plans a hi-tech industrial park under the big top – to take over and run the site from January 1 next year.

If Hands’ bid wins, he has vowed to take over 30 per cent of the “best” exhibits. This could include the Body Zone and Home Planet. Nomura has linked up with Ogilvy & Mather, which hopes to handle the £20m annual communications budget (MW last week).

A spokeswoman for Nomura explains the bid: “We have already got people in mind for the top jobs, and we will have a marketing director. It will be an urban entertainment centre. We want to make it a lot more fun, though some things will remain.”

Both bidders have submitted detailed proposals to English Partnerships, which will review the schemes and recommend to a ministerial committee which one best meets five criteria.

These state that the new Dome should be environmentally sound, not cause traffic snarl-ups, it should be in keeping with the “creative integrity” of the Dome and should provide local jobs. But most of all, it should be financially sound, as the Government will take a share in any profits derived from it.

English Partnerships will this month make its recommendation to the committee, chaired by deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. The committee also includes Cabinet Office minister Lord Falconer, Culture minister Janet Anderson, and Treasury minister Andrew Smith. The winner should be announced towards the end of this month.

But English Partnerships’ recommendation will not be made public, according to the body, so there will be no way of knowing whether the ministers accept or reject the body’s advice. And one insider fears the committee may arrive at a “political” decision, although this is hardly surprising given they are all politicians.

“The fear is that the Government will be embarrassed if Nomura makes a success of the Dome, when the NMEC was perceived as a failure. This is a sensitive subject with the election coming up and it could cost Dome Europe its bid,” says the source.

But a Nomura spokeswoman plays down the prospect of such naive politicking.

Nomura’s Dome uses the entertainment expertise of Sony division Hyper Entertainment. It will bring some of the exhibits it has used at similar entertainment parks in Germany and the US. These include the Yellow Submarine ride, which recreates the Sixties Beatles movie.

Ticket prices will be “similar” © to the current £20 entry, although this will work as a season ticket, allowing multiple entry.

Nomura is forecasting some 5 million visitors a year to the attraction, less than the revised Dome target of 6 million. But some observers believe this figure is ambitious.

“Even 5 million is optimistic. Alton Towers attracts 3 to 4 million – that’s more realistic. The great thing about attractions on the Continent is that people want to return again and again. Repeat business is the secret. But if they have got to crawl through London to get to the Dome, people won’t come back,” says Graham Mills, managing director of marketing consultancy Hedonica.

Mills says the absence of adequate car parking is the single most important factor keeping Dome numbers down. He says the rival site at the Birmingham NEC would have solved this problem, as there are extensive car parking facilities. (Others add that being far from Wapping, where many national newspaper journalists are based – right next door to the Dome – might have headed off some of the press criticism.)

But Nomura points out that Hyper Entertainment’s park in San Francisco attracted 6 million people in its first year – though these Californians could use their cars to get there.

Nomura will also try to raise commercial sponsorship funds for Dome Europe, and has already approached some of the attraction’s existing sponsors to canvass opinion.

BT says it has been approached by both Nomura and rival bidder Legacy. A Boots spokesman says: “They have made initial contacts. Our commitment is to the end of the year, and we have no plan to take that any further.”

McDonald’s has not been approached by Dome Europe. A Marks & Spencer spokesman says: “We have met them, but it’s too early. Until a decision has been announced, there’s little point in taking these discussions further.”

New Labour might be able to salvage something from the remains of the Dome with either bid. This will be important to public perceptions of Labour and the whole concept of “third way” public/private partnerships.

After the dust settles on the UK’s millennium celebrations, it is possible that some of the relics of the Greenwich Dome will become collectors’ items.

In 50 years’ time, they may be all that is left as a reminder of this spectacular and controversial link-up between Government and business to mark the change from one millennium to the next.

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