LONDON — Madison Square Garden’s plan for a “next generation” 21,500-capacity concert venue in London won another key endorsement this week when a planning committee approved the development, despite strong objections from residents and rival live events company AEG.
On Tuesday, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) granted MSG a 25-year advertising license subject to a five-year review. Now, London Mayor Sadiq Khan needs to approve the project — called MSG Sphere London — before work can begin. In rare instances, government ministers can also intervene and suspend planning applications.
New York-based Madison Square Garden Entertainment (MSG) first submitted plans for the venue in March of 2019. Since then, the company has encountered sustained opposition from councilors and residents who are concerned it will blight the area with noise and light pollution.
MSG is proposing to build the arena on a five-acre plot of land in Stratford, East London, adjacent to the Olympic Park and would be located just five miles away from the 20,000-capacity The O2 arena, the U.K.’s top grossing venue, which is operated by AEG.
The design of the MSG Sphere London mirrors the spherical crystal ball design of the MSG Sphere at The Venetian in Las Vegas — due to open later this year at a cost of $1.8 billion — and measures 90 meters (295 feet) tall by 120 meters (394 feet) wide. Its exterior will be covered in a programmable skin of more than one million LED lights, which will primarily be used for showing videos and advertising.
The LLDC had provisionally approved the venue last March, but the committee still needed to sign off on several aspects of the planning process, including MSG’s strategy for managing the Sphere’s controversial advertising display.
The proposed arena still doesn’t have a price tag, and MSG said in its most-recent quarterly earnings, filed in November, that there is no “definitive timeline” for its construction.
Opponents of the venue are calling on Khan to block the development. AEG says it was “dismayed” by the committee’s decision to give MSG Sphere London the go ahead.
“We call on the Mayor of London to uphold his election promise to do what’s best for Londoners, including the residents of [the London Borough of] Newham who are having this huge development forced on them, by directing refusal of the planning application,” AEG says in a statement.
AEG says MSG Sphere London’s LED illuminated exterior “was conceived for the heart of Las Vegas” and is “at a wholly unprecedented scale for London and totally out of keeping with the surrounding area.”
Campaign group StopMSGSphere, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, and several local councilors have urged the Khan to quash the development, which would be MSG’s first venue outside of the United States.
Following the ruling, a spokesperson for MSG — whose portfolio includes New York’s Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and the Forum in California — said the company ”remains committed to bringing MSG Sphere to London” and promised the venue would create “thousands of jobs and [generate] billions of pounds for the local, London and U.K. economy.”
MSG says it will provide blackout blinds to homes located within 150 meters (492 feet) of the new London arena and will run a telephone line for residents to register any complaints.
Should it get the go ahead, MSG Sphere London will be one of the U.K.’s biggest indoor concert venues with a scalable capacity of up to 17,500 seated, or 21,500 with a mixture of seated and standing. That exceeds the U.K.’s two biggest existing arenas, London’s The O2, which has a maximum capacity of 20,000, and Manchester’s AO Arena, which holds up to 21,000 people.
Construction is currently underway in Manchester on what will be the U.K.’s biggest indoor music venue, the 23,500-capacity Co-op Live being developed by the Oak View Group, which counts Harry Styles as an investor. It is set to open in December.
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