Plans for a multi-million pound heritage centre based on Blackpool’s rich history as the world’s first working class seaside resort are being proposed to transform part of the famous Winter Gardens.
Town hall chiefs are preparing to make a bid for a Heritage Lottery grant for the bold scheme which could cost up to £16m.
It is also hoped to access European funding for the attraction proposed for the Pavilion Theatre.
Blackpool Council believes it could draw in around 380,000 visitors a year and create 70 full-time jobs.
Once up and running it would fund itself. The council’s executive will discuss the plans on Monday.
Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn believes the town has a “convincing case” for an attraction for visitors and residents which would “celebrate the history of the town”.
He said: “Officers and members have been working on these proposals for some time now, and I hope the executive will approve the proposals to put in a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
“We believe if we can secure sufficient grant funding to build the attraction, it would be financially viable with a relatively low entrance price, and offer a great participatory experience for our schoolchildren and residents of all ages.
“Applying for the type of sums we are talking about – possibly as much as £10m – is not a quick job, and I don’t want people to expect to see anything happen overnight.
“But I do think we have a convincing case for the HLF to explore, and I think this idea offers a big step forward in securing the long-term sustainability of the Winter Gardens.”
He said the debate around the future of the Syndicate building had demonstrated “a real desire to celebrate Blackpool’s heritage in particular its role in the history of theatre and popular culture”.
A feasibility study has been completed, and if councillors agree on Monday, it is hoped to submit an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund next month. Initially a list of 23 possible sites for the attraction was considered, which was then whittled down to three sites within the Winter Gardens – the Pavilion Theatre, the car park site and Olympia.
The theatre was chosen as the preferred option with the car park as the reserve option.
Elaine Smith, a member of the Winter Gardens Trust, said: “It is an absolutely wonderful idea which will increase footfall to the Winter Gardens if it comes off.
“It will also be a great way of showcasing all of Blackpool’s wonderful history as a seaside town in a way which has not been done before.”
Michael Williams, managing director of Crown Entertainments, which operates the Winter Gardens on behalf of the council, said: “We recognise the Pavilion Theatre is an under–used space within the Winter Gardens complex and a visitor-based exhibition space would help revitalise it.
“It would be an added attraction for people already visiting the Winter Gardens to attend an event.
“There are important elements of the theatre which would have to be preserved and it would need a complete refurbishment.”
Blackpool-based theatre producer Duggie Chapman said he believed there would be huge interest.
He said: “There is tonnes of archive material at the Winter Gardens from all the great shows at the Opera House and it is sad no-one ever gets to see it at the moment.
“I am sure people in London, like the British Music Hall Society, would welcome it as somewhere they could display some of the many items donated to them.
“The Pavilion Theatre would be an apt location because lots of stars played there in the old days.”
In her report to the executive, the council’s head of heritage Heather Morrow says indicative capital costs range from £11.5m to £15m.
She says the vision would be to “tell the big, bold story of the world’s first working class seaside resort,” adding “there is a very strong belief this heritage told through stories, memories and artefacts could form the basis of a fantastic heritage attraction.”
The report says: “It will be a dynamic, hybrid and celebratory space.
“A blend of museum, visitor attraction and theatre, filled with artefacts, film, music and performance.”
‘Have your say’ urges civic trust chairman
• Chairman of Blackpool Civic Trust Joan Humble is calling on everyone to join the debate over proposals for a heritage-based attraction.
• She said: “I think this is a very exciting idea, and if the executive agrees it, Blackpool Civic Trust would certainly want to be involved. Blackpool has a very proud history. Not only do we have wonderful heritage buildings, but we have the heritage of over 100 years of our tourism industry.
• “We are only at the first stage but Blackpool could have something really exciting and very important to the town. There is a lot of interest in our history from residents, as the Gazette’s very popular Memory Lane and Lost Archives demonstrates.
• “If we can combine that with the memories people have of their holidays in Blackpool, I think there could be very widespread support. It is important everyone in the town gets involved, and we make sure we get it right.”
• Blackpool local historian Barry Shaw also backed the idea. He said: “The size of the Pavilion Theatre means it could accommodate something on a large scale. Of course we want old photographs, but what about something like bringing in a Victorian-style bathing hut, or recreating what it was like to stay in a boarding house from the early days.”