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London-area Sphere may not happen as mayor rejects plan

Updated November 21, 2023 - 7:23 pm

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has recommended against building a Sphere venue in the neighborhood that hosted the 2012 Olympic Games.

The decision isn’t final, and the proposal would next go to Communities Secretary Michael Gove for a final ruling, but Sphere Entertainment officials appear to have given up its London plans.

“While we are disappointed in London’s decision, there are many forward-thinking cities that are eager to bring this technology to their communities,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We will concentrate on those.”

Last month, Sphere Executive Chairman and CEO James Dolan, in an interview with the Review-Journal, affirmed that he intends to continue his ambition of building several Sphere venues worldwide, using the successful opening of the Las Vegas venue as a template for future developments.

“We’re actively pursuing other markets to build other Spheres and although I doubt we’ll ever be able to build one like Las Vegas again sometime, we have six different kinds of Spheres all the way down to a 3,000 seater and we’re ready to start taking this medium out to the rest of the world,” Dolan said at the time.

Sphere officials have not confirmed reports that the company is considering a project in South Korea.

The slightly taller London version of the building — 366 feet in Las Vegas compared with 394 feet in London — has been planned in what was a parking area for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London, home of the 2012 Olympic Games. London media have referred to its capacity as 20,000, although the number of seats is nearly the same as the Las Vegas venue, the company said.

Khan was viewed as a supporter of the London Sphere project, hailing the economic benefits the venue could bring to Stratford, the neighborhood where the London Sphere is proposed. But the mayor put a hold on planning efforts there after neighbors of the site expressed concerns about dusk-to-dawn light pollution and the sale of advertising on the building’s massive exterior screen.

Light pollution, a huge electricity bill, lack of “green” credentials, and impact it would have on heritage sites were among reasons the mayor decided Monday to block the domed structure.

Persons familiar with the London project say Khan’s rejection of the Sphere may be part of a political squabble with other government leaders.

Las Vegans have embraced the $2.3 billion Sphere in Las Vegas, which was first illuminated on the Fourth of July and has hosted several U2 concerts and screenings of Darren Aronofsky’s “Postcard from Earth” film.

Most recently, the Sphere was the centerpiece of a fan zone for the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix. It was featured prominently in the worldwide broadcast of Saturday night’s race.

The Sphere has become a favorite for people taking selfies and it also has a Facebook fan club that has grown to more than 305,000 members.

The Sphere also has begun contributing to the Las Vegas’ economic well-being.

Sphere officials say tickets for U2 and “Postcard from Earth” have been sold to residents of all 50 states and 132 countries. Since the building was first illuminated it has averaged more than 7 billion media and social media impressions a day.

Production reviews have been positive, thousands of Sphere employees have been hired and the company has begun refining its sustainability profile.

A proposed deal with NV Energy, if approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, would provide the highest amount of dedicated solar power available to Sphere, making it a model for renewable energy use by entertainment venues around the country. The planned solar and battery facility, if approved by the PUC, would serve Sphere as well as other NV Energy customers.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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