Work on the i360 Brighton Eye looks likely to start in the autumn after the £35 million scheme was given a financial kickstart yesterday afternoon (Thursday 10 May).
Senior members of Brighton and Hove City Council approved a £14 million loan in principle, with final sign-off expected to be given on Thursday 12 July.
They hope to see the new tourist attraction up and running by April 2014 – within two years – and believe that it will directly create the equivalent of 150 full-time jobs.
Some of those will be construction jobs while others will be for full and part-time staff working at the site by the shore end of the West Pier on Brighton seafront.
The council is due to start major road works in October close to the site which should bring the disused neighbouring seafront arches back into use.
One goal is to carry out construction work at the same time, minimising disruption to drivers.
The council will borrow the £14 million from the Public Works Loan Board and lend it on at a commercial rate to the company behind the i360.
The decision comes weeks after the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership recommended a £3 million loan from its Growing Places Fund.
The fund was intended to help “shovel ready” projects that were struggling because of “market failure”.
The i360 company had already raised £18 million after being granted planning permission in October 2006 for the 600ft (175m) observation tower.
One of the architects behind the i360, David Marks, told councillors: “The project has stalled because of the continuing credit crisis and the extreme reluctance of the banking sector to lend.”
Mr Marks, who was also responsible for the London Eye, said: “People just love going up high to enjoy a good view.”
He said that the London Eye had revived the South Bank area of central London and that the Brighton Eye would have a similar effect.
He added: “It will create jobs and fundamentally underpin the economy of the city.
“Its scale and design will help raise the profile of Brighton and Hove.”
And Eleanor Harris, who will run the attraction, said: “It will be a wonderful way for you to see your city from a new perspective.
She ran the London Eye for its first six years and has worked with various big visitor attractions including the Royal Pavilion.
She said that the viewing pod could hold about 200 people at a time and could be used for parties or even performances during the Brighton Festival.
The i360 is expected to attract 700,000 to 750,000 visitors a year with numbers as high as 800,000 in the first year.
Council leader Bill Randall said that it would help regenerate Preston Street and the area around the pier, indirectly creating more than 400 jobs.
Labour group leader Councillor Gill Mitchell said: “That is an area of the seafront that’s crying out for an anchor attraction.
“We’ve got an economy that’s flat-lining and banks that won’t lend so it’s right that the council should be bold.”
She pointed to the success of the new Falmer stadium and added: “It would be good to replicate that on the seafront.”
But she also told the Green administration: “You’re going to have to look at your parking charges because you could scupper the success of a project like this.”
Conservative group leader Councillor Geoffrey Theobald said that he welcomed the Greens’ proposed investment in the Regency Square car park, opposite the site.
Councillor Theobald said: “Council officers and the administration need to take a very careful look at the numbers.
“The benefits are very large and so are the pitfalls.
“Preston Street has suffered mainly because of the success of restaurants in other parts of the city.”
He added that the scheme would regenerate the area around the West Pier and, he hoped, it could “kickstart the redevelopment of the West Pier itself”.
Councillors asked officials to hold further talks with Marks Barfield Architects and draw up detailed loan financing and repayment terms.
The loan is subject to due diligence and the agreement of the cross-party Policy and Resources Committee in July.
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