Modifications in MSG’s London Sphere plans


London Sphere MSG update Sept. 2020 Image: MSG

The entertainment wing of US live sports and entertainment giant Madison Square Garden (MSG) Company has entered modified plans for its proposed MSG Sphere venue in London after overcoming objections raised by Network Rail.

Network Rail is the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the railway network in Great Britain. Network Rail is an arm’s length public body of the Department for Transport with no shareholders, which reinvests its income in the Railways.

The MSG Sphere London is a proposed music and entertainment venue to be built in Stratford area of London in the United Kingdom.

In March 2019, a planning application for the project was submitted by MSG. Futuristic technology forms crux of the proposal. The plans for MSG Sphere were lodged with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), as MSG seeks to develop its first major venue outside of the United States.

Located in the heart of Stratford, East London, MSG Sphere’s main venue would have a scalable capacity of up to 17,500 seated, or 21,500 when there is a mix of seated and standing. The latter, in theory, would be greater than the official capacity of The O2, the nearby facility run by MSG’s rival AEG – the Los Angeles headquartered world’s leading sports and live entertainment company.

The proposal encompasses a music venue, nightclub, members lounge, eateries, bars, and new bridges to create pedestrian connections across the site. The building would comprise ‘skin’ of LEDs that would be programable and will be able to display images on the surface of the building, including adverts.

Following the conclusion of the second round of public consultation in January, LLDC reviewed the large number of responses and sought further information from MSG. Network Rail, which owns and manages most of the railway network in the UK, was worried about the safety quotient at Stratford Station. It had also highlighted the potential impact on drivers of glare from the venue’s LED skin and notices displayed on the illuminated surface.

MSG Entertainment said its new submission represents the culmination of an extensive process that included consultation and detailed technical discussions with key stakeholders. Consequently, Network Rail has withdrawn its objection to the MSG Sphere planning application, with MSG stating they now consider that all relevant risks and impacts have been identified, and appropriate mitigations and controls proposed.

MSG Entertainment has also presented a number of voluntary planning conditions for consideration by the planning committee that address feedback from the LLDC and the community. This includes parameters around MSG Sphere hours of operation, event timings, and external display, including restrictions on overnight lighting. After working extensively with local operators, there are also additional measures to coordinate event arrival and departure times for attendees at MSG Sphere and other local venues.

The submission also includes a proposal to provide 111 Blue Badge parking spaces at Stratford International Station with a free mobility assistance service to the venue, an element which MSG claims represents the largest scheme of its kind for any UK arena.

Additionally, MSG has submitted expert reports that were commissioned to provide further information on areas including road and rail safety, transport matters, and other operational plans. As an example, the updated operational plan sets out how the proposed additional entrance and ticketing hall at Stratford Station will streamline access and reduce congestion.

Jayne McGivern, Executive Vice-President, Development and Construction, MSG Entertainment, remarked, “We are pleased to provide additional details in support of our planning application for MSG Sphere, underlining our commitment to create jobs and boost the local economy. The materials reflect the constructive dialogue we have had with a range of local stakeholders, and further demonstrate the careful consideration that has gone into every aspect of our plans. We are confident our proposal thoughtfully sets out how we will deliver a world-class venue, and remain excited about the opportunity to bring MSG Sphere to London.”

Further public consultations will commence soon, with a date to determine the success of the application not yet set.

In April, the MSG Sphere project in Las Vegas (US) joined its proposed counterpart in London in suffering delays. In November, MSG revealed that the London venue was expected to open later than what was initially planned.

MSG maintained that while “significant” progress had been made on the Las Vegas project, the London arena continued to move through the planning application process. MSG said it remained focused on incorporating lessons from the Las Vegas project in London and as a result it was no longer possible for the latter to open a year after the Vegas Sphere arena.

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