Saturday, 29 August 2009

Blackpool, Mon Amour

Michael Notarianni almost whispers it at first. It's nine o'clock in the morning and we're sipping espresso in his seaside cafe. Another fortifying sip and he's ready to say it with pride. "I'm starting to fall in love with Blackpool all over again," he smiles.

Michael is not alone. The archetypal Great British seaside resort has spent years in the wilderness. But a wind of change may finally be blowing in off the Central Promenade these days.

The talk today around Blackpool is of regeneration with a £45m injection of hard currency over the next three years. Redeveloping the seafront is a key element to transform the resort’s tourism industry with improvements to the sea wall, remodeling the seafront and the opening of the Tower Festival Headland, including a 'comedy carpet' with quotes from comedians etched in granite, due for completion in 2010.

Old-school family businesses like Notarianni's, the only original, ice-cream parlour left in town, are keeping fingers crossed that the resort has finally turned the corner.

Michael's grandfather Luigi, opened the original shop on the seafront in 1928. Today the cafe retains the Art Deco counter and still serves the Notarianni Sundae (£3.60) in the colours of the Italian flag.

Next door at Brooks Collectables, manager Mark Yates has opened Brooks Museum of Memorabilia upstairs from the shop with vast collections of toys, Blackpool souvenirs and rare pictures of yesteryear Blackpool.

"Most people don't know about the Art Deco heritage of Blackpool away from all the, err, glitz. The secret, " he adds," is to look up at the tops of the buildings."

But can Blackpool really reinvent itself? A handful of local hoteliers have invested heavily in upscale properties, notably The Beach House and Langtrys. Plus there are a few smarter places to eat and drink around town away from the traditional cheap beer, soggy chips and alcopops-fuelled hen parties.

But for every boutique B&B, there's Freddie Starr at the Central Prom and for every example of Sir Peter Blake's public artwork on the New South Prom art trail, there's a boozed-up stag party downing shots in Yates's Wine Lodge.

BBC Radio 2 will be here next weekend to live broadcast the switch on of the illuminations and the Royal Variety Performance will coax the Royals north of Watford for a second time after their foray to Liverpool.

But will British holidaymakers start to fall in love with Blackpool all over again like Michael? Can Blackpool find a new market away from cheap booze and chips?

I'll discussing this with Duncan Barkes on City Talk Breakfast this Tuesday from 7.45am. Post your comments below and I'll put them on air.

1 comment:

  1. Blackpool has always been a traditional spot where ordinary people like to go to have fun. That doesn't mean it has to be tatty and revolting. Maybe there are lessons to be learned from Olando which offers a good degree of family friendliness and mass market fun. Cleanliness, good maintenance, and customer service pay off.

    Having said that, "Disneyfying" isn't as easy as it looks. If people are heading to Blackpool for rowdy, drunken nights and fights, and large numbers of people want to make a living catering for non stop boozing at the lowest possible price, then the only answer is to stick to improving areas that are capable of improvement.

    The key is surely to involve as many businesses as possible to find out what they actually want and what it is practical for them to do. They have livings to earn, after all. They know what is practical.