Town hall to operate Winter Gardens

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The Winter Gardens is to be brought under town hall control after councillors last night voted to bring its running in-house.

Blackpool’s executive committee was told the move would secure the future of the Grade II listed building because profits will be reinvested into the venue instead of having to be shared with an independent operator.

In the last financial year, the complex generated an economic value to the town of £73m.

Having more control will also help the council when it bids for Lottery funding for a museum earmarked for the Pavilion Theatre inside the landmark.

Current operator Crown Entertainment will hand over the management to the council on June 28, with the 110 staff, including Winter Gardens manager Michael Williams, transferring into council employment.

A report to the committee says: “The vision for the proposed company is to manage and deliver the Winter Gardens as an internationally renowned destination, the beating heart of a world class resort, delivering a superb year round entertainment destination of the highest quality.”

Blackpool Council purchased the Winter Gardens in 2010 as part of a £40m buyout of a number of attractions including The Tower.

Last year the council put the management contract for the Winter Gardens out to tender because the agreement with Crown was due to come to an end, but has now decided to bring the operation in-house.

Following last night’s vote, Mr Williams said: “The Winter Gardens is a profitable operation, and has been since 2010 when the council acquired the venue.

“We are confident we can maintain that profit. For example we have seen growth in the Opera House from it holding 50 or 60 events in a year four years ago, to more than 150 in 2014/15.”

A total of £7m has been 
invested in the Winter Gardens since 2010.

The next projects will see the launch of a cinema in the Opera House at the end of May, and the demolition of the multi-storey car park on Leopold Grove to make way for exhibition space, and potentially a new conference venue in the future.

Coun Graham Cain, cabinet member for tourism, said: “We are already working on ideas for up to 2017.”

But Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams warned the council could face financial risk.

He said he was surprised an outside operator was not taking on the management but added: “Michael Williams and his team have done an exceptional job and I’m sure they will continue to do so but the council, and ultimately the people of Blackpool, will have to stand any losses the Winter Gardens might incur and it’s a very big gamble.

“I am also not confident the council have the skills and structure to oversee this venture. Only time will tell if this is a good idea.”