Prime Minister Boris Johnson has officially opened a new £30million Conference and Exhibition Centre.
Mr Johnson unveiled a plaque in the reception hall of the new building, in Blackpool, which is located in the historic Winter Gardens, on the second and final day of the Conservative Party’s Spring Conference.
It is the first time the Conservative Party has held a major conference at the resort since 2007.
The new state-of-the-art conference center has been designed to fit seamlessly into the Winter Gardens complex.
With 2,400 square meters of dedicated space spread over two floors and equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual technology, the new construction adds a unique contemporary touch to the Winter Gardens, which opened in 1878.
With a direct link to the Empress Ballroom, Opera House and Empress Buildings, the new center has created a hub of 12 distinct venues, offering a total capacity of 7,000 delegates and nearly five acres of conference space, connected meeting, event and exhibition.
Built on the site of a former car park, the project was facilitated by £17.8m funding from the government’s Growth Agreement, which is managed by the Lancashire Economic Partnership (LEP), near £3 million from the Coastal Communities Fund and the remainder from Blackpool Council and Blackpool Entertainment Company Ltd (BECL).
This is the first major building development at the Winter Gardens since the opera house was built in 1939.
Following the official opening of the centre, the Prime Minister said: “It was an honor to open the new Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Center in the historic Winter Gardens for the first Conservative conference here in 15 years.
“This initiative is at the heart of our upgrade program, this new conference center will make a real difference in driving economic growth and bringing opportunity to this great coastal city.
“I hope this will be the venue for many events for years to come, bringing people from all over the UK together in the heart of Blackpool.”
Since being acquired by Blackpool Council, the original Winter Gardens buildings have undergone a multi-million pound upgrade with a new air conditioning system, improved digital connectivity and extensive refurbishment to give back to rooms such as the Floral and Spanish Rooms their original splendour.
Cllr Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “Our ambition in developing a new conference center next to the Winter Gardens is to see Blackpool regain its reputation as a host of major league conferences.
“The return of the Conservative Party for its spring conference this weekend, coupled with the official opening by the Prime Minister, marks the start of this exciting journey.
“Major conferences in Blackpool bring thousands of delegates to the city centre, who in turn spend money in our local shops, restaurants and hotels, helping our businesses to thrive and enabling them to hire new workers.
“It will be a real game-changer for business tourism in Blackpool.”
Managing Director of BECL, the company that operates the Winter Gardens, Michael Williams, said: “With the opening of the new center it means that we are now ready to offer organizers of conferences and exhibitions a venue totally unique which combines state-of-the-art facilities in the new building with the grandeur and history of the original Winter Gardens.
“It is extremely impressive to see how the new construction adds a contemporary touch to this historic site.”
Debbie Francis OBE, Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: ‘A vibrant and bustling Blackpool is good for the whole of Lancashire, so it’s fantastic to see the state-of-the-art £30million conference and exhibition center officially inaugurated today by the Prime Minister.
“This superb asset, which has been backed by £17.8million in funding from the LEP Growth Deal, is the largest and most sophisticated of its kind in the North, and will help put Blackpool back on the map as a as one of the UK’s leading conference and exhibition destinations.
“When paired with another LEP-supported project – the station’s £22 million tram extension, which received £16.4 million of LEP funding – you can also see how these strategic investments are helping to transform Blackpool’s overall offer to visitors.
“These schemes are also part of a wider £58 million LEP funding package for the station which includes support for the Showtown Museum and the Houndshill Shopping Center extension.
“Such investments will not only help increase footfall, create more jobs and unlock more investment in Blackpool, but will bring wider economic benefits to all of Lancashire.”
Find out more about Blackpool’s regeneration plans by visiting www.blackpool.gov.uk/BetterBlackpool