Magical million as Winter Gardens welcomes big names and big numbers

Picture Martin Bostock'The Winter gardens, Blackpool. View from Victoria Street

Picture Martin Bostock'The Winter gardens, Blackpool. View from Victoria Street

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Five years ago it was branded as having “little purpose in the modern world”.

But today it has been revealed more than one million people visited Blackpool’s Winter Gardens in the 12 months to June this year – up 25 per cent on the previous year.

The massive turnaround

in the historic venue’s fortunes includes visits from stars such as Bob Dylan who headlined three nights –

attracting 10,000 fans.

Lights show Illuminasia has also provided a boost – with around 110,000 people

already through the doors since it launched in April.

Its American and Chinese investors today revealed the success has prompted them to take up an option for the

attraction to remain in town for another two years.

It came as a town hall spokesman confirmed the Winter Gardens complex was forecast to make a profit.

The visitor figures for the Winter Gardens do not include hit musical Mamma Mia!

During its 12-week run this summer, more than 100,000 people visited Blackpool to see the show with ticket sales totalling more than £3.3m.

It is a far cry from May 2009 when the Victorian landmark’s future looked bleak.

It needed £20m spending on it and a report compiled by then owner Leisure Parcs said the venue had “little purpose in the modern world”.

Since then the Winter Gardens has been bought by the council, a move which has helped attract new investment.

The latest phase of work is a £46,000 facelift for the main entrance overlooking St John’s Square – paid for out of the venue’s operating profits.

A spokesman for the council said the venue was forecast to make an operating surplus during the current financial year although he said he could not provide any exact figures or further details.

The former Bar Red on St John’s Square is also being renovated to create a new theatre bar and burger restaurant.

Coun Graham Cain (pictured), Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for leisure and tourism, said: “We’ve seen a significant increase in footfall throughout the Winter Gardens.

“Investment has played a key part in this increase with the hugely successful Mamma Mia! having a massive impact and Illuminasia – which we are pleased has decided to option a further two years at the venue, highlighting their confidence in the Winter Gardens and Blackpool as a resort – making a big contribution.

“We are now aiming to continue that momentum into next year and are working to ensure another top class year of entertainment.”

From July 2013 to June 2014, more than one million people visited the Winter Gardens, up by a quarter from the figure for the previous 12 months when 800,000 went through the doors.

Up to 1,000 people have visited Illuminasia on the busiest days. The indoor lights attraction based on Chinese art is the biggest indoor display of its kind in the world.

Now it is proposed to freshen up Illuminasia for next year with plans including new cutting edge holographic technology not seen anywhere else in the world, and a dinosaur feature.

Figures also show in the 12 months to July 2014, 48,000 people have attended business events and conferences at the Winter Gardens – an increase of 12,000 on the previous year.

Businesses in the area say the success of the venue has been a huge boost for them.

Simon Wrigley, owner of the Number 5 restaurant on Cedar Square, said: “The Winter Gardens is our lifeblood and without it we wouldn’t be here. The events there bring so many people to the town.

“For example the matinee performances of Mamma Mia! were brilliant for us, bringing people in on Sundays and weekdays which otherwise would be quiet.”

Paul Drury, owner of the 99p Takeaway on Abingdon Street, said: “We are just round the corner from the Winter Gardens so the more footfall the venue is getting, the better it is for us.

“When there is something on there it makes a real difference and I would imagine all the businesses round the Winter Gardens do well.”

Among the big names to perform at the Winter Gardens have been Bob Dylan, rock band Arcade Fire and comedian Sarah Millican last November and December.

West End producer Bill Kenwright brought four major shows to the venue last summer – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Blood Brothers, Save The Last Dance For Me and Soul Sister.

In addition events such as the World Matchplay Darts, the Pigeon Show, ballroom dancing competitions and Showzam! have helped draw visitors in.

Blackpool Council purchased the Grade II listed building in 2010 as part of the £40m buy out which also included The Tower and the Golden Mile Centre, prompting a £5m investment programme.

n OPINION – PAGE 10