WHAT a transformation!
The stunning £1.25m first phase of the restoration of the Winter Gardens was unveiled to the public at the weekend.
Visitors to the Grade II listed building which opened in 1878 will see parts of the once neglected landmark radically overhauled.
The glass rotunda, blocked off for the last 10 years, has been opened up and returned to its former glory while the dazzling Floral Hall boasts palm trees, illuminated columns and refurbished steel ceiling ribs in a return to its Art Deco hey-day.
Carl Carrington, Blackpool Council’s head of built heritage, said the scheme had “bought the magic back.”
He said: “The sense of arrival is much better and the rotunda is just breath-taking. It is the wow arrival factor and this is what has been missing for so long.
“We have tried to inject quality with the gold leaf which adds a dimension that wasn’t there before and has bought the magic back.”
Just 18 months ago the complex was neglected and branded as having “little purpose” in a report commissioned by former owners Leisure Parcs who were told it needed £20m spending on it.
But last year the council bought the Winter Gardens, along with the Tower and the Golden Mile Centre, as part of a historic £40m deal.
The overhaul, which has seen part of the building shut to the public, is the first phase of renovation with £5m set to be invested in total.
Metal entrance doors have been replaced with hardwood to replicate original features, while an amusement arcade has been ripped out to reveal Art Deco treasures in the Mazzei Room where upmarket operator Heathcote’s is due to open a coffee house later this month.
Blackpool Council leader Coun Peter Callow urged people to go and see the work for themselves.
He said: “I’m hoping residents and visitors will see this is a quality development and from today they can come into the building and I’m sure they will be amazed at what they see.
“We wanted to do these areas to show people something and I think this has set the benchmark.
“It’s a wonderful building, but in recent times it’s just not had the investment it needs and many parts of the building have started to fall into disrepair.
“In the hard times we are currently experiencing it’s so important that we as a council look for ways of keeping the economy of the town moving.
“This purchase will not only highlight the wonderful architectural features of the building but also help us to attract more visitors and create new jobs.”
It is also hoped it will help bring back the conference trade.
Coun Callow added: “Delegates want somewhere with a bit of character and I think we are providing something that will capture the imagination.”
The work was carried out by Blackpool-based building contractor F.Parkinson which had to meet an 11-week deadline so the building was ready in time for the start of the February Festival and Showzam!
Chairman of F.Parkinson Peter Glenn said: “When we took some of the panels off in the Mazzei Room and exposed what was there, there was total disbelief at the quality.
“It has been a privilege to do and more than 90 per cent of those who have worked on it have been Blackpool people so there has been a real passion to make it what it is.”
Michael Williams, general manager of the Winter Gardens, said he was delighted with the transformation.
He said: “We have shown some clients around already and they are very excited and looking forward to hosting their events here.”
The next phase will see Heathcote’s open a restaurant in the former bistro, which is due to open in May, and the renovation of the Pavilion Theatre.
Mark Hughes, chief executive of the Northwest Development Agency which levered European money into the scheme, said: “The Winter Gardens is part of Blackpool’s heritage and it is important to secure that legacy by creating an outstanding attraction. The first phase will give visitors a taste of the high quality transformations taking place which will rejuvenate tourism and kick-start major regeneration.”
The council appointed conservation architects, Donald Insall Associates to create the designs to restore the iconic building.