As Chicago prepares to open Millennium Park four years late and $325 million over budget a Tribune review of major millennium projects around the world reveals a common theme: Big plans typically are beset with big problems.
According to the Tribune survey, the $475 million Millennium Park is one of the costliest and latest of the millennium projects. But it is neither the costliest nor the furthest behind schedule.
Those dubious distinctions belong to the United Kingdom, which did far more than any other nation to celebrate the millennium.
London's Millennium Dome, which came with a price tag well over $1 billion, makes Millennium Park, which is costing closer to half a billion, almost look like a bargain.
In the Welsh city of Cardiff, meanwhile, the Wales Millennium Centre opera house will open in November, saving Chicago the embarrassment of being the last city to stumble across the millennium finish line.
While some of the projects, such as the London Eye Ferris wheel, have proved wildly popular, most have endured withering criticism for busted budgets, functional problems, avant-garde designs, and openings that came well after the clock struck midnight Jan. 1, 2000.
One example: a millennium church in Rome that must have received special papal dispensation. It opened three years late.
With the exception of that Italian project, most of the major millennium projects are in the English-speaking world specifically, in the United Kingdom and Chicago.
New York, Los Angeles and other large American cities chose not to build major millennium projects. The French, apparently, didn't think they could top the Eiffel Tower.
And the world's Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and other non-Christian nations understandably didn't show much interest in honoring the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity.
For all the problems associated with millennium projects, the British experience shows that big plans can pay off in the long-run: London recently topped Paris as Europe's No. 1 tourist destination. Tourists cited both its rich history and new attractions, including the London Eye.
Following is a survey of selected millennium projects outside Chicago:
Project:Millennium Dome, London
Cost: At least $1 billion, more than double the original estimate.
Purpose: This colossal object three times the size of the Coliseum in Rome arose on the site of a former gasworks in Greenwich, the London borough that's synonymous with time. Designed by the renowned British architect Sir Richard Rogers, it housed exhibitions devoted to all aspects of life on Earth.
What went wrong: Just about everything. Although the giant party tent opened on time, it was almost universally vilified for its bland design and contents. Typical were the comments of Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who, after a visit to London, termed the dome an "upturned soup plate . . . pierced by cranes that stick up like chopsticks and give the impression of a balding porcupine." The dome is now set to become a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment arena.
Project:London Eye (also known as the Millennium Wheel)
Cost: $40 million
Purpose: Nearly twice as tall as the original Ferris wheel at the Chicago world's fair of 1893, the 450-foot London Eye was conceived by husband-and-wife architects David Marks and Julia Barfield as a way to give Britain something uplifting for the millennium. The wheel also symbolically marks the turning of time. Standing across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, it has 32 glass-enclosed, air-conditioned capsules that each hold 25 people and provide knock-your-eyes-out views of London landmarks.
What went wrong: The wheel failed a last-minute safety inspection, and its opening was postponed from the eve of the millennium to March 2000. Even so, it was voted Britain's top tourist attraction and became a new symbol of London, appearing on postcards and T-shirts. Now, however, financial squabbling among its owners may threaten its long-term future.
Project:Jubilee Church, Rome
Purpose: Designed by the renowned New York City architect Richard Meier, it was intended to be a symbol of renewal, marking the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity. Three white concrete shells resembling sails formed the church's most distinctive architecture feature.
What went wrong: The Jubilee Church opened in 2003, three years late for the onset of Holy Year 2000. Fortunately for its sponsor, the archdiocese of Rome, 2003 turned out to be the 25th anniversary of the election of Pope John Paul II. According to published reports, the church's construction was delayed by a shortage of funds and the difficulty of realizing Meier's complex design.
Project:Wales Millennium Centre (originally known as the Cardiff Opera House), Cardiff, Wales.
Cost: $189 million.
Purpose: Scheduled to open in November, four months after Millennium Park, it will be the new home of the Welsh National Opera and will host other arts activities, such as ballet. Said to resemble a bronze helmet, it was designed by architect Jonathan Adams, who assumed aesthetic control of the project after a competition-winning design by London's Zaha Hadid was junked.
What went wrong: Hadid's design, which won a 1994 architecture competition, created an uproar. Many in Wales viewed its avant-garde look as a design foisted upon them by London elites. Both Hadid's plan and the supposedly snooty name "opera house" were ditched. The 10 years it took to realize the project tops the six-plus years Chicago needed to build Millennium Park after Mayor Richard Daley announced the undertaking in 1998.
Project:Millennium Bridge, London
Cost: $28 million
Purpose: This 1,200-foot, state-of-the-art suspension footbridge was designed to connect St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tate Modern museum. Its architect, the esteemed Lord Norman Foster, sought to create "a uniquely thin bridge profile forming a slender blade across the Thames."
What went wrong: Two days after it opened in June 2000, the bridge was closed due to violent swaying that knocked people off-balance, sparking jibes about the new "swinging London." In 2002, at an additional cost of about $7 million, engineers found a way to dampen the bridge's vibrations and it reopened.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times