Authority set to borrow funds for venue’s revamp

Former Tower Lounge bar
Former Tower Lounge bar
  • Former Tower Lounge bar is set to get back into business after plans were today revealed for a £400,000 revamp
  • Bid to bring in a new operator for the 1,700 capacity building
  • It is not the resort it was 30 years ago when families came and stayed overnight

One of Blackpool’s most high profile venues is set to get back into business after plans were today revealed for a £400,000 revamp.

Town hall bosses are planning to invest the money in the former Tower Lounge bar in a bid to bring in a new operator for the 1,700 capacity building.

The development proposal includes a complete reworking to the interior of the site, in addition to changes and modifications to the exterior of the Tower building

The council is to vote on Thursday at its executive committee on whether to borrow the money to allow the redevelopment of the building, which it wants to re-open as a more family friendly restaurant business.

The authority has long said that rowdy day-time drinkers at the party bar had been off-putting to many visitors with children wanting to visit nearby attractions and shopping areas.

But the plan to borrow cash has today drawn criticism, with claims it is not appropriate for a council to invest public money in a private venture.

Other pub bosses say they are still mourning the loss of the former Tower Lounge, saying visitors to the venue often went on to other bars.

Since the bar called time last November, the council and Tower complex operator Merlin have been working to bring the site into a use considered more “appropriate” to the rest of the Tower.

The committee report states: “The vision for the proposed restaurant is to deliver an eating experience, a superb, year-round destination of recognisable quality, which would help to drive economic prosperity and benefit to the town.

“The development proposal includes a complete reworking to the interior of the site, in addition to changes and modifications to the exterior of the Tower building.”

Graham Cain, cabinet member for tourism and leisure, said: “We will take careful steps with the proposed development to approve a quality, appropriate eatery, in keeping with Blackpool’s family friendly tourism offer.

“The proposal will support the regeneration and economy of the town, while strengthening our family ethos. The venue (being) out of use would have detrimental impact on the local community and The Tower.

“We hope to see the area transformed. As people will understand and as many people, both residents and visitors, have told us, the mix of families and shoppers mixing with the daytime drinkers the Tower Lounge sometimes attracted was not the ideal mix for a family resort.”

Ian Hawkins, from Merlin, said the investment was a sign Blackpool, on the back of 2014’s busy summer season, was bubbling with confidence for the summer to come.

He said: “This is great news. There are no contracts signed off with potential tenants but we are quite well down the road with initial negotiations.

“Merlin is the number one family visitor attraction operator in Europe but we don’t really run places like The Tower Lounge was.

“It was very popular for many years but we felt it had run its course. It was always our plan with the agreement of the council to close the doors but bring it back and breathe new life into it.”

He added the proposed tenant could not yet be revealed because sensitive negotiations were ongoing.

Season

But he said the family and food angle would be a better fit with the other attractions at The Tower and hoped that it could be open some time during the summer season.

But Coun Don Clapham, from the opposition Conservative group on the council, said the authority should not fund the development.

He added: “I can understand the desire to redevelop the Tower Lounge in terms of revamping that area of town, but I can’t understand why they must do this through prudential borrowing.

“It is another £0.4m they will have to borrow and then pay back when we all know our finances are well and truly over-stretched.

“It does not seem very prudential to me. They have already borrowed to buy and then demolish the Syndicate and then borrowed again for the new central hotel.”

Martin Heywood, from the Viva Showbar, said: “They seem to be encroaching once again on private business. It does not seem right that, at a time when the council is having to make savage cuts elsewhere, they should be borrowing this money to invest like this. The tenant should pay.”

But he added: “A family restaurant would be good. We seem to be moving towards more segregation in Blackpool at the moment. The people who used to go to the Tower Lounge will now go to Queen’s Street which is fine. ”

Peter Bowden, from Club Domain, on the Promenade, welcomed the new investment in Blackpool but said: “The job of the council is to provide the right environment for business to thrive, not to get involved in private business. Will they offer similar investment to all the other businesses in town?

“I think they have got the wrong idea about tourism in Blackpool. It is not the resort it was 30 years ago when families came and stayed overnight.

“The Tower Lounge was a thriving business – it was the best money maker at The Tower complex, it was not broken. I think the decision to close it was for political reasons. The council had criticised the reliance on stags and hens business but was the owner of the biggest stags and hens operator in the resort.”

Dave Daly, landlord of the Castle and vice-president of publicans’ union Licensees Unite, said if a big brand food name came in it would be good for Blackpool’s family image, but local pubs businesses would miss the Tower Lounge.

He said: “It was in the town for 50 years and we used to call it the Mothership.

“It was a tourist attraction in its own right and people used to come from all over.”