THE iconic UK landmark that is Blackpool Tower was relaunched on September 1 following a 10 month, multimillion pound restoration programme which has seen the 118-year-old structure given a new lease of life.

First launched in 1893, the Tower has been closed to the public since it was purchased by Blackpool Council as part of its £250m regeneration programme for the famous north west seaside town, bringing it into public ownership for the first time in its history. Since then, the council has been working in partnership with global visitor attractions operator Merlin Entertainments to restore and transform the Tower and buildings into a brand new tourist experience reminiscent of its heyday.

The film provides details on the town and the construction of its world famous Tower, with suitable special effects, and is housed under the impressive steel arches of the structure, which have been exposed for the first time. It also acts as a pre-show before guests take their “flight” to the Blackpool Tower Eye (the viewing platform) 381ft (116m) above the promenade.

From the “flight deck” guests are guided into lifts to ascend to the Tower Eye where, on exiting the lifts, they are immediately confronted by the new Skywalk, a 4.15 tonne glass floor, and floor to ceiling glass observation “wall” which runs along an entire side of the Tower Eye. The views are spectacular, while the glass floor adds another exciting dimension to the whole experience. Although the Tower was closed during the renovation period, the Tower Circus and ballroom remained open and with the whole venue once again available to the public, Merlin now operates eight attractions in the town.

“This is a red letter day for the Tower and for Blackpool,” commented Merlin CEO Nick Varney in a speech at the official opening. “It marks the reincarnation of the town, bold words but very true words. Blackpool is rightly claiming to be the entertainment capital of not just the UK but of Europe.”

He outlined the various attractions operated by Merlin on the town’s Golden Mile and noted a “fantastic reaction” to the recently opened Madame Tussauds in Blackpool, which is well ahead of expected visitor numbers. He noted the “four crown jewels” of the Tower, namely the ballroom, circus and now the Blackpool Tower Dungeon and the Blackpool Tower Eye, with its pre-show “which is a great pre-cursor to a trip up the tower and the very modern viewing area at the top.”

Varney went on to note that the town has the “biggest concentration of attractions in Europe” and that Merlin “will do all we can to make the Tower and its attractions and our other attractions in the town a success, as well as the town itself.”

Councillor Graham Cain, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for tourism and culture, said: “Today is the day that will change Blackpool and what people think of Blackpool forever. This iconic landmark has a special place in people’s hearts. With a clear vision from the council, Merlin was chosen to come in to manage it. Outside London there is no other resort that offers visitors such a wide range of attractions in the UK. Visitor numbers to Blackpool are growing year on year and the additional 800,000 we hope to achieve (as a result of the regeneration work within the town) would bring in approximately £55m in additional spend to the town. With the help of Merlin and our other partners we will continue to stride forward. Blackpool is changing and today marks a huge step forward for its development and regeneration plans.”

Talking to InterPark, the head of Merlin’s Blackpool Cluster (of attractions), Ian Hawkins, revealed that more work was still to be carried out on the Tower, for example to ensure that some of the heritage elements such as stained glass and unique tiled areas are suitably maintained. And he was very optimistic for the future.

“Blackpool’s Madame Tussauds is up 25 per cent on expected visitor numbers while Sea Life is up 10 per cent,” he revealed. “And our combo ticket is also helping to hold people in the resort for longer periods.

“A year ago there was a lot of scepticism in what we were trying to do but people are looking at Blackpool in a different way now.”

The opening of the Blackpool Tower Eye and Blackpool Tower Dungeon marks the end of phase one of the restoration project. The Tower is enjoying a facelift that will also include a fully restored retractable Ballroom roof, including glass ceiling which will allow visitors to dance under the stars, two new entrances and refurbished common areas with much improved signage and access. The project team is also part way through a seven year clean and paint project that will see every piece of the steel structure repaired to its former original red glory.

Additionally, 3,500 LED lights capable of producing 16 million different colours and spectacular displays have been added to Blackpool Tower’s traditional appearance to add a fine modern twist.

The attractions launched on September 1 form part of the £20m regeneration plan for the Tower and Promenade developed by Blackpool Council in partnership with Merlin Entertainments and with funding from the North West Development Agency, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and the council.