Friday, December 28, 2012
On a bleak morning after Christmas the seafront at Great Yarmouth is deserted and there is an almost melancholy silence within the walls of the Pleasure Beach.
The snaking body of the giant rollercoaster has long since gone into hibernation and its grumbling roar and shrieks will not be heard again until the end of March.
But on a cold, drizzly day when it is almost impossible to imagine the summer time appeal of the resort, Pleasure Beach owner Albert Jones unveiled his bold vision to attract visitors to the park 52 weekends a year.
Providing a sustainable future for the Pleasure Beach, nurtured by his grandfather and father before him, is clearly what has driven him along the long and winding road to bring a large casino to the resort.
And the seemingly interminable negotiations with the borough council are poised to end in the new year with the signing of an agreement that will finally hand him the licence to build the only large casino on the east coast.
Rides are already being moved on the southern end of the Pleasure Beach to clear ground for the £25m scheme, to be called The Edge, which will accommodate a seven-screen Odeon cinema, five national chain restaurants and a 120-room budget hotel as well as the new-style casino –one of only eight to be allowed across Britain.
The landmark final agreement will mean Mr Jones and his development consultants Hawes Price can, in his words, “press ahead with 100pc effort”.
He aims to see builders move on to the site – also taking in derelict land to the south of the Pleasure Beach – in October.
Mr Jones revealed his company, Pleasure and Leisure Corporation, had already invested more than £1m in the project since the vision of Las Vegas-style gambling was first raised by the Labour government nearly 10 years ago.
However, despite the delays – and he remains convinced that faster work by the council could have given Yarmouth the first large casino in the country and not Newham – he is confident his investment is not the gamble some other local businessmen think it is.
Despite the recession, which has seen the original £35m scheme scaled down slightly, he believes investors will see the potential of the project.
He said: “The signs are that operators do want to come here. They believe Yarmouth will move forward and they are encouraged to see improvements to the seafront and road schemes like the final A11 dualling.”
The casino would attract visitors from at least a two-hour drive away and it would also develop the market for long weekends.
He said: “We are already signed up with Odeon and we have interest and offers from national chains of restaurants and prospective hotel developers.”
Confident that partners will quickly be sorted out for each of the elements, he said: “One of the restaurant groups said they are like sheep – once one goes the rest will follow.”
Mr Jones confirmed that the licence for the casino would be held in his name, but they were negotiating with several interested partners.
He said: “The large casino allows you to bring in the right mix of gaming with high stakes, but it is not just about gaming, it will be the whole experience. It will be somewhere people can come and eat and listen to live music.
“The whole idea is to attract people from a wider area. The nearest other large casino, when it is built, will be in Milton Keynes.”
His passionate aim is to reverse the leisure market drain away from Yarmouth to Norwich.
“We want people to stay in Yarmouth and go to the pictures or out for a meal here,” he said.
“At the moment Norwich is busy when it is quiet here. People even go from Yarmouth to nightclubs in Norwich, when the reverse used to be the case.”
He believes the casino will create opportunities for other seafront operators to improve their outlook, in the same way it is enabling him to invest in the Pleasure Beach and give a new lease of life to a park that opened in 1909.
His vision is to replace the park’s log flume lake with a large indoor attraction – and his aim is to see it ready in time for Easter 2015, eight months ahead of The Edge opening its doors.
He said: “I want to provide attractions not currently on offer in Yarmouth, including a Go Ape-style rope-climbing adventure course.
“I am also looking at a smaller version of what is at Thursford, with a museum – possibly displaying some antique rides – and a Christmas show.
“I see it being a flexible space where we could run some of our outdoor attractions during the winter. It could also be themed to create a winter wonderland at Christmas.”
He said despite still attracting one million visitors a year change was vital to ensure a secure future for the Pleasure Beach – three washout bank holidays this season had left the park relying on subsidy and the last healthy season was 2009-10.
He said: “We’ll never be open 52 weeks a year, but the indoor centre should allow part of the Pleasure Beach to be open 52 weekends a year.”
He hoped they would be able to add 25 to 30 full-time staff to their existing 40 full-timers and 100 part-timers.
When The Edge opens, in time for Christmas 2015 if everything goes to schedule, he sees the complex creating a minimum of 400 extra jobs.
In the meantime, his investment in the Pleasure Beach is beginning in time for next season with a new £300,000 spinning rollercoaster.