Blackpool is in the running to host a once-in-a-lifetime celebration, showcasing the best of art, culture and design across the north of England.
The resort is one of four finalists hoping to stage the Great Exhibition of the North, with judges visiting next week.
Organisations from across the region are now being asked to throw their weight behind the campaign, to bring the two-month exhibition to Blackpool.
Marketing Lancashire, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and Blackpool Council submitted the joint bid to host the 2018 event, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has announced the shortlist.
Blackpool’s Winter Gardens has been chosen as the “hub” that would host the exhibition.
The resort is now up against Bradford, Newcastle-Gateshead and Sheffield to host the event.
Blackpool is absolutely the right place to host this
Blackpool Council deputy leader Coun Gillian Campbell, said: “We are delighted that Blackpool has been selected to move into the next phase of this process.
“The Great Exhibition of the North is a hugely exciting opportunity and one that we firmly believe that Blackpool can deliver for the benefit of all of Lancashire.
“Blackpool has a long history of staging world-class events and we are confident that, given the chance, we can produce something that will truly capture the public’s imagination.
“We are the perfect location to celebrate the best of art, culture and design across the North of England.”
Ruth Connor, chief executive of Marketing Lancashire, said the team was working together to make the “best submission”, showcasing the latest design, innovation and “pioneering spirit”.
She said: “The heart of the exhibition would be Blackpool, but would have a hub and spoke effect in Lancashire and the north.”
She described the town as the UK’s favourite seaside resort, and said: “We know we already have a thriving visitor economy, we’ve got a large exhibition space in the Winter Gardens complex.
“For us, the core principle would be centred around pleasure palaces, because the original exhibition in 1851 was how the Crystal Palace was built. It’s all about culture, design, art and technology.”
The exhibition would have elements including a digital palace, a palace of dance, a palace of “new realities”, and Ruth described the event as a “real diverse offer”.
She said: “Part of it is the latest technology, robotics, product design and manufacturing, because of Lancashire being the home of advanced manufacturing.
“From a digital perspective, visitors can interact with the latest in IT and gaming and computing and digital arts.
“We are trying to create experiences where visitors will not only come and enjoy, but experience and explore as well.”
She added: “What better way to showcase the Winter Gardens than having this pleasure palaces exhibition, where people get to see it first hand.
“It is about using one of our most important assets from a heritage perspective, but actually bringing it to the modern day.”
She said hosting the exhibition would support the resort’s vision to “make the Winter Gardens a leading UK centre for popular culture”.
An interview panel will visit Blackpool next week, where they will be shown the Winter Gardens and “how the resort will deliver”.
There will be interviews with Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire and chairman of the Great Exhibition Board, and the winning venue will be announced this autumn.
Ruth said: “We are giving it our all, there’s tremendous ambition to secure this for Lancashire.
“Blackpool is absolutely the right place to host this.
“We believe we’ve got the strength, the right assets, and above all the people to deliver it.
“It’s about putting ourselves on the map, it’s saying we can do this, we want this.
“We’ve got a great foundation already with 63m visitors per year, and it’s about saying we can do more.”
Ruth said the team was bidding for a £5m initial fund.”
She added: “There’s a legacy attached of around £15m, so the idea is we create a reason to come, visitors come and spend while they are here, and also stay over.”
A new visitor economy strategy for Lancashire aims to grow visitor numbers from 63 million a year to 70 million by 2020.
Blackpool will play a key role in reaching that goal, as current host to 17 million visitors annually.
Support needs to be shown as part of the bidding process for the chance to stage the exhibition.
Tony Attard, chairman of Marketing Lancashire, said: “When asked if I would support a bid to host the Great exhibition of the North I had no hesitation.
“Lancashire has a great heritage of creativity and innovation and indeed was the powerhouse of the Industrial revolution that gave birth to the Great exhibition in 1881.”
John Barnett, High Sheriff of Lancashire, said: “Blackpool has undergone a major renaissance over the last 10 years with new attractions, the headlands, rejuvenated facilities like the Winter Gardens and I believe that attracting the Great Exhibition of the North to Blackpool would bring these improvements to the nation’s attention, to change outdated perceptions of the resort.”
Ruth Eastwood, chief executive of Grand Theatre Blackpool said: “As one of England’s most celebrated architectural gems and a fully-functioning theatre, we look forward to welcoming new and different audiences to both our beautiful building and our rich artistic programme.”
Daryl Platt, executive director of commercial development at Blackpool and The Fylde College said: “I welcome the news that Blackpool has been shortlisted.
“The exhibition would be a welcome opportunity for our students to be involved with a high profile event and gain valuable workplace experience in this dynamic and thriving industry.”
And Illuminations designer, Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen described the Winter Gardens as “The most magnificent palace of amusement in the world, a jewel box of architectural styles…Hollywood glamour”
Show your support at www.marketinglancashire.com.