£25m conference centre to put resort back in big league

Artist's impression of a proposed new conference centre for Blackpool
Artist's impression of a proposed new conference centre for Blackpool
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This is the £25m vision for new conference facilities that would hold 7,000 delegates in a reborn Winter Gardens.

Developers today said the scheme will put Blackpool back in the ‘big league’ as a conference destination.

Construction could start in winter 2017, with a view to welcoming conferences by spring 2019 if a multi-million pound funding bid is successful.

As town hall chiefs wait to see if a multi-million pound funding bid has succeeded, detailed plans for the project to build onto the side of the Victorian landmark were revealed.

Outline planning permission is already in place, but the detailed application sets out the full concept.

It includes extensive improvements to the existing facilities including the Empress Ballroom which would link directly to the modern facility bringing the total capacity of the venue to more than 7,000.

The project is subject to successful funding bids to the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and the Coastal Communities Fund.

Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “This is a really exciting step forward in upgrading the Winter Gardens to a conference venue fit for the 21st century.

“We already know the Empress Ballroom and the Opera House provide perfect venues for keynote speakers and housing delegates, but to have a proper exhibition and welcoming space is exactly what is needed to try and bring major league conferencing back to the resort.

“We are keen to make sure that while the design for the new centre is contemporary, it still remains in keeping with the historical and heritage aspects of the rest of the Winter Gardens, and have been talking with heritage experts to make sure we can retain the beauty of the Winter Gardens building within the new build.”

The council has commissioned the plans from architects Bisset Adams, which previously worked on the refurbishment of Central Library.

In the design statement, Bisset Adams state “the conference centre is planned to be of a scale and quality to attract the highest level conference trade, restoring Blackpool’s pre-eminence in this area”.

If it goes ahead, there will be new conference space for 1,200 people with additional ground floor exhibition space able to hold around 380 people.

But this will link in with the existing capacity of the Winter Gardens bringing the total capacity to more than 7,000.

The architects add: “The creation of a conference and exhibition centre on the Winter Gardens site in Blackpool is part of a wider desire to improve the facilities and provision of the Winter Gardens complex.

“A modern state of the art facility within a culturally significant and historic venue will generate greater interest and attract events and exhibitions.

“The new facility will help to unlock the potential for the site by creating better facilities and linkage between the Empress Ballroom, the Opera House and the wider Winter Gardens.”

The building would open onto Leopold Grove and be built on a site currently used as a car park.

One element includes providing new air conditioning for the Empress Ballroom, as well as upgrading the audio-visual systems.

An extension to the exterior of the ballroom, onto Leopold Grove, would also be demolished to create a raised terrace enabling people to access an external space from the balcony level, and reinstating street level views of the historic facade.

The design statement adds: “The new conference and exhibition centre represents a new and positive step in this history, bringing a new audience, generating new job opportunities and contributing to the overall economy of the centre and of the town itself.”

As well as the main conference space, the plans include meeting rooms and dining areas.

A new double height entrance space will be formed to the Winter Gardens, with the new building designed to complement the Grade II listed landmark using a combination of brick, terracotta, steel and concrete.

But the architects admit there is “a recognised need to refurbish and upgrade the existing buildings, particularly the Empress Ballroom, with improved access and better facilities.”

This includes the re-opening of the original Empress Ballroom main entrance on the north facade of the building to connect into the proposed new conference centre foyer. Repairs will also be made to the existing ballroom roof prior to the installation of the new plant equipment, and to the existing Opera House external walls.