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High hopes for a 2012 start on Brighton's i360
After years of stalling because of the recession, developers have now revealed work on the i360 could start by the end of the year, with the attraction scheduled to open on March 31, 2015.
Plans for the £38 million 183-metre viewing tower for a seafront site near the West Pier were first unveiled in 2006.
Brighton and Hove City Council agreed to step in and loan almost £15 million to kick-start the scheme.
However, despite local authority bosses describing it as a “low-risk investment”, this is £800,000 more than was initially anticipated when the idea of the loan was first discussed in May.
Council leader Jason Kitcat said: “This isn’t a spare £15 million we have lying around, and it is not money from local council taxes.
“This is money the Government would allow us to borrow from external funders and lend on for this purpose, and this purpose alone.
“They will only allow this for projects which boost the economy, and the money must be repaid with interest.
“We feel this could be a tremendous leap forward because it uses external funding to provide a huge boost to our economy and hundreds of jobs for local people.”
When asked about the increase, a council spokesman said: “Certain things hadn’t been allowed for, such as some surveying costs.
“These arose during very fine checking of detail relating to the loan. This is unsurprising in a large, complex building project.”
So far Marks Barfield, the firm behind the London Eye, has secured £20 million for the scheme.
In May the new Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership provisionally agreed to give £3 million towards it.
The £14.8 million shortfall will be provided in a secure capped loan from the council which will be repaid over ten years.
Both loans will be signed off by the local authority’s powerful policy and resources committee on Thursday.
David Marks, of Marks Barfield, told The Argus last night: “I very much appreciate all the hard work that people have put in putting this deal on the table and I’m very much looking forward to a positive decision from councillors when it is discussed.”
A completed tower would be expected to attract up to 800,000 visitors a year.
A local authority report claims those visitors will spend upwards of £5 million in the city. The tower will also encourage 18,000 more people to stay overnight.
It would create 150 jobs directly and about 440 jobs locally, while boosting businesses in the area, including nearby Preston Street.
Officials also claim it will lead to improvements in the area and the opening up of arches either side of the West Pier.
This would bring in business rates and rents to the public purse.
Other financial benefits for taxpayers include the council receiving one per cent of the i360’s ticket revenues – expected to be about £70,000 a year – plus interest on the loan.
The idea has received cross-party backing.
Cross party support
Labour councillor Gill Mitchell said: “We will be supporting the proposals on the basis that local taxpayers will not be saddled with any financial risk.
“This attraction has the potential to revitalise a rather shabby stretch of seafront, boost local business and provide jobs, which we will want to see going to local people.”
Conservative councillor Geoffrey Theobald said: “We have always been supportive of the i360 and I hope that this loan will enable it to be built and to be a success.
“I have been given assurances from the council’s finance officers that the liability to the taxpayer on this loan will be minimised.”
Work could start in the autumn, with the majority of the work taking place over the spring and summer months.
When complete, visitors will board a pod and go on a 20-minute journey up to 139 metres into the air.
At night 30-minute trips would operate.
A 400-seat café, shop and public toilets will be located on the beach level of the attraction.
Two hospitality rooms for receptions, weddings and conferences will also form part of the lower level.
Dutch-based steelwork supplier Hollandia, which also worked on the London Eye, will manage the construction.
The pod will be provided by Poma, Europe’s largest cable car and ski lift manufacturer.
Once open, the rival Brighton Wheel, operating near Brighton’s Palace Pier, would then have to cease operating under an agreement with the council.
Brighton and Hove City Council loan - £14.8 million (39%).
Coast to Capital LEP loan - £3 million (8%).
Private equity - £20 million (53%).
Before the council gives any money to the developers it will be given full access to the money already secured through private investors.
The local authority’s contribution, which is secured against all Brighton i360 Ltd’s assets, will be handed over in monthly instalments over a two year period.
The council has put forward a number of measures to secure its funding.
This includes full charge of the assets of Brighton i360 Ltd, a right to acquire shares in the company and full “step-in rights” that allows it the appoint replacement operators.
There will also be a fixed price construction contract against which no changes can be made without the consent of the council.
The combined loan will be repaid in full in addition to a commercial interest, estimated to be about £2.5 million.
Independent experts have shown this will be raised even if the attraction gets 480,000 visitors – nearly half the expected 800,000 – in the first year.
The figure does not include income streams from sponsorship and concessions which could exceed £1 million a year.
Repayment of the loan will start six months after the i360 opens and take ten years.
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