With less than two months to go before the April deadline of the new financial year, Blackpool Council bosses are optimistic about their chances of buying city icons, Blackpool Tower and The Winter Gardens. Current owners Leisure Parks are thought to be ready to sell the two landmark properties for £40m and Council leader Peter Callow says his officials are “going full tilt” to tie up a deal.
The news is welcomed by director of marketing at Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board, Tony Openshaw, who tells conference-news the purchase would boost the ongoing work to provide exciting new opportunities and packages for business tourism.
“We’re asking conference organisers to take a fresh look at a regenerated resort that has a positive and passionate team ready to help with every request,” Openshaw says. “The Winter Gardens is the resort’s main conference and exhibition centre and this deal would obviously provide a fantastic addition to the work already being done.”
The failed bid to bring a casino complex to Blackpool acted as a call to arms for the resort, Openshaw believes.
It is understood the council’s bid is dependent on gaining access to funding from the European Regional Development Fund. Its Project Management Committee has reportedly given the initial thumbs up to the bid. European money would be matched by a package of public funding.
The idea to buy the two properties flowed from recommendations made in Sir Howard Bernstein’s report on the regeneration of Blackpool after the supercasino bid was turned down by Gordon Brown. Bringing the landmarks into the public sector would mean heritage funding could also be accessed.
Chief executive of regeneration agency ReBlackpool, Doug Garrett, says: “Given the potential funding which may be available, the time is right to take this bold step and acquire these assets, which can then underpin the overall regeneration programme for the town to deliver a 21st century resort.”
The Winter Gardens was opened in 1878, offering a “pleasant lounge, especially desirous during inclement weather”. Blackpool Tower opened in 1894 as a homage to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Millions have been invested in sea defences, new public squares, shopping centres and an event space on the promenade. More than £100m is being spent on the seafront tramway. A planning application is about to be submitted for Talbot Gateway, a £220m project to create a new civic and cultural quarter.
Tourism chiefs say the investment will bring two million extra visitors this year to the Golden Mile, including 38,000 conference delegates.