The first spades in the ground are doing their work as the £21m project to bring the biggest immersive cinema screen in the county to Blackpool’s Houndshill centre has begun.
The Phase Two development of the shopping centre will see a new 22,500sq ft Wilko store plus two restaurants on the ground floor of the new building, with a nine screen cinema on the first floor.
The work is under way on the north side of the existing centre, where the Tower Street carpark used to be, after nine years since the project was first mooted.
Excavators are preparing the foundations of the new building and utilities work due to be finished by Winter 2022.
The Houndshill Phase 2 project partners officially break ground on the £21m scheme
The Tower Street car has gone, but the Houndshill car park will remain open.
A three way traffic light system is in place in the area and drivers face some delays. Bosses from the companies involved in the project and the council were on site to perform the official ground breaking at the 0.5 acre site.
The project will create more than 260 construction jobs, 100 other jobs and aims to produce an increase of 1.2m shoppers and visitors to the Houndshill centre.
The move of the Wilko store to the site from Talbot Road is key to the redevelopment of the Talbot Gateway area and this latest building project is hailed as another significant improvement for Blackpool.
A computer generated image of how the building will look
Three key deals were signed in February that have enabled the scheme to commence, the council’s acquisition of Tower Street car park, a lease agreement for a new 22,500 sq ft Wilko store and a deal with MMC Cinemas for a nine screen, 850 seat, 40,500 sq ft multi-media cinema complex, including the biggest immersive screen in Lancashire.
Coun Lynn Williams, leader of Blackpool Council said: “It is exciting to see that things are under way and will be great to have Wilcos back along with this wonderful cinema for residents and visitors alike.
“We are committed to diversifying and modernising the town centre to encourage residents and visitors to choose Blackpool as their main shopping centre of choice.
“This means celebrating our well known heritage buildings, driving footfall to new areas of the town and encouraging people to stay for longer.
Foundation work and work on utilities in the area are the first job
“The Houndshill Phase 2 extension will deliver a new range of high-quality entertainment, retail and leisure choices that meet the needs of the modern family, which will complement the existing shops at the Houndshill, boost both day and night time business, and increase the amount of time and money spent in the town centre.
“For the town centre to prosper we must continue to provide new reasons to attract resident and visitors and to extend the time of visits into the evening with more entertainment and leisure choices that the whole family can enjoy.
“New purpose-built, ultra- modern buildings that can adapt to ever-evolving consumer aspirations are important and will shape how we use our town centre in the future.”
She added that the town could not sit on its laurels and must continually drive forward and invest in the future.
The new building will be on the north side of the existing Houndshill where the Tower Street car park used to be
The overall scheme got £5m of funding from the Government’s COVID-19 Getting Building Fund, following formal approval by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership in October last year.
Blackpool Council will fund the rest through borrowing.
Debbie Francis, chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership said: “It is great that the Houndshill scheme was able to secure £5m from the Getting Building Fund.
“This will undoubtedly enhance Blackpool’s leisure and retail offer and complement existing investment into the town to achieve transformational change.
“The leisure and tourism sectors have been significantly affected by the pandemic and so it is wonderful news to see work starting on site and the scheme coming one step closer to fruition and attracting visitors to the area.”
The council bought the Houndshill Shopping Centre in for £47.6m in November 2019 as part of its long-term strategy to revitalise the town centre.
Another image of how it will look
The phase two extension will also include two restaurants totalling 3,760 sq ft and the council said it is in talks with potential leisure operators for these units but remains open to enquiries.
James Dawling group property director at Wilco said: “We had good trade at the store over near the council offices in Talbot Road, but it was a little bit big for us.
“Everything is coming towards this part of town and there were plans to redevelop that part of town, so coming here is great and makes a lot of sense.
“It has taken some time to get the deal done, thanks to Covid but the council are a great team to work with.”
He said Wilco will be ready to move there during 2023 and that the store would have a link through into the main shopping centre.
The lead contractor on the project is Belfast-based Graham, with CBRE as the project manager and cost consultant for the scheme.
Stephen Van den Hoek, regional operations director for Graham said: “This next phase of works will deliver much-needed commercial space to Blackpool, driving footfall through the creation of new retail and leisure opportunities for visitors and the local community.
“Our team is excited to bring the vision to life over the course of the construction programme, which on completion will create a high quality destination for the town centre to flourish.”
Gareth Robertson, director at CBRE said: “CBRE’s Project and Cost Management team have worked closely with Blackpool Council, deploying our broad range of capabilities in support of the acquisition, funding and procurement phases of this fantastic scheme and valuable addition to the Town’s amenities.
“We look forward to the construction phase of the project and continuing to work collaboratively with Blackpool Council, their project stakeholders, new and existing tenants and their construction partner John Graham Construction.”
The new cinema will have nine screens, including the 850 seats and the huge Premium Large Screen Format, IMAX-style screen.
The company behind it said it will be a purpose built attraction tailored to Blackpool and will attract people into town from across the county.
It will also have conferenceing facilities, retractable seating in some areas and be a flexible use development.
John Sullivan, founder of MMC Cinemas who has developed cinemas world-wide for more than 30 years, said: “Finally seeing the ground-breaking on this project is the result of a lot of hard work already done, but marks the official start of a new cinematic journey for Blackpool.
“We’re committed to making sure this new complex pays homage to the heritage of this exceptional town. “In t
he independent MMC location, we’re not bringing a ready-made cinema brand to Blackpool; Blackpool will help to shape this flexible arts and community space.
“We’re already in discussions with local interest groups and we want to hear from more. “This will be a place where people can come together and make use of this flexible space for education, leisure, shopping, entertainment, workspaces and so much more.”