Blackpool Tower sold in pounds 74m deal

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The Independent Online
BLACKPOOL TOWER and several of Britain's most famous seaside piers were snapped up yesterday by the former Pontin's tycoon Trevor Hemmings in a pounds 74m deal.

Leisure Parcs, a company controlled by Mr Hemmings, bought the resorts division of the entertainment giant First Leisure which also owned Blackpool's three piers and the Winter Gardens conference centre. As well as the attractions in Lancashire, Leisure Parcs has also bought piers at Eastbourne and Southsea on the south coast, and at Llandudno in north Wales.

Blackpool Tower, which was built over a century ago and is modelled on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, attracts more than a million visitors every year. It is one of Britain's 10 most popular fee-paying attractions.

The tower is a Grade I listed building and incorporates at its base a building containing attractions that include a world-famous ballroom and circus.

"It's business as usual today but it is too early to say what might happen in the future," a spokesman for the Tower said yesterday.

First Leisure's chairman, the former television executive, Michael Grade, announced that the resorts division was up for sale in April as part of a strategy of focusing on faster-growth leisure businesses such as bars, nightclubs and health and fitness centres.

Mr Hemmings, who is believed to have spent his childhood holidays in Blackpool, was quickly tipped as a front runner.

The former bricklayer, whose interests embrace hotels, pubs, a football team and racecourses, is now worth an estimated pounds 315m.

He made almost pounds 60m by building up the Pontin's holiday camp business and then selling it to the brewer Scottish & Newcastle in 1989.

Mr Grade said yesterday: "The disposal is another major step towards strengthening the group's position in its core growth markets - nightclubs and bars, health and fitness and family entertainment - where the board believes there are significant opportunities to enhance shareholder value.

"The disposal will result in the loss of two months' profits during Blackpool's peak season."

Earlier this year, First Leisure sold off its bingo division to management for pounds 38m. Mr Grade said the pounds 112m proceeds from the two sales would be used to reduce the group's borrowings.

High Life On

The Prom

The 519ft high Blackpool tower was opened on 14 May 1894 when 30,000 people paid a 6d (2.5p) entrance fee.

Former Mayor Sir John Bickerstaffe got architects Maxwell and Tuke to emulate the Eiffel Tower. Its pounds 42,000 cost was met by pounds 1 shares being sold.

It is made from 2,500 tons of steel, 93 tons of cast iron and 5m bricks.

In the Second World War a US bomber missed it by inches and in 1956 it was closed for two years by fire.

It was painted gold for its centenary at a cost of pounds 1m and the Queen and Prince Philip joined the party - 385 feet up on the observation platform.

1.2m visit each year and locals call it The Stick.

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