Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Merlin expands Blackpool operations

Blackpool Council has taken the British resort’s landmark tower and Winter Gardens into public ownership, and appointed Merlin Entertainments to run a number of associated attractions.

The council will contribute around a quarter of the £38.9 million ($59m/€44m) purchase price, the remainder of which is being provided by government and regional development agencies. The assets were previously owned and operated by Leisure Parcs.

<p>Starting in the autumn, the tower and its associated buildings will undergo a major refurbishment. Currently home to an aquarium, circus, play area, 3D cinema, dinosaur walk and the world famous Tower Ballroom, Merlin’s plans for the complex include adding a Dungeons horror attraction and an upgraded sightseeing experience.

A copy of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Blackpool Tower opened in the 1894 and stands 158-metres (518ft) tall. Merlin intends to exploit its experience running the London Eye by replacing the existing observation deck with an “Eye branded experience” including a 4D pre-show.

The attractions specialist will also take over the town’s much-derided Louis Tussauds wax museum and transform it into the UK’s second Madame Tussauds outlet, featuring high quality figures and interactive exhibits. Merlin already operates a Sea Life aquarium in the town.

Madame Tussauds will open in Spring 2011.  The first of the new attractions in the Tower complex is scheduled to open later in the year; with all works completed for early 2012. Blackpool Council estimates these additions could bring an extra 800,000 visitors to the resort town every year.

“Merlin is just the kind of world class operator we need with a track record of running quality attractions people visit time and again,” notes Blackpool Council leader Peter Callow. “They will be bringing some of the most iconic attractions in the world to Blackpool.”

“This is a very innovative and ground breaking initiative by Blackpool Council, and a measure of just how seriously they take the regeneration of the town,“ remarks Merlin chief executive, Nick Varney. “From 2011 no other UK European centre other than London will be able to offer such a broad selection of international attraction brands.  This will help take what is already the best loved, and in our view most iconic, seaside destination in Europe into the premier league as an exceptional new family holiday destination.”

Blackpool Tower, together with the resort’s three piers and Winter Gardens exhibition/theatre complex, were bought by Leisure Parcs in 1998. It was expected they would flourish if Blackpool won approval for a “super casino,” but the casino licence never followed. Leisure Parcs founder Trevor Hemmings retains control of the piers, two of which feature amusement rides operated by showman Peter Sedgwick, as well as an operations contract at the Winter Gardens.

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