Thanet council is likely to approve the conditional sale of the Westbrook Loggia building at Westbrook Bay after a feasibility report suggested some £4.06million would be needed to refurbish the site.
That sum would be to create a mix of uses including self catering holiday accommodation, restaurant and event space, cafe and toilet and showering facilities with additional amenity spaces for the businesses.
Thanet council commissioned Fourth Street Place Consultants last year to carry out the redevelopment study.
The Loggia, which sits along Westbrook Royal Esplanade, was originally constructed as a bathing pavilion in the early 1900s.
The report says it is thought that the towers were removed during the 1930s, one of many architectural changes which this structure has undergone it its time. The most major architectural interventions appear to have been made in the 1950s, likely following the major flood event of 1953.
The modern-day Loggia has been extended at first floor level and the colonnaded frontage has been lost. The original cast-iron railing has been retained on the central section, along with the arched windows at first floor level.
The building, owned by Thanet District Council, is currently empty except for a section occupied by Thanet Lifeguard Club and Your Leisure.
A Thanet council statement says: “As the council already has a significant programme of capital projects and does not have the existing funding or resources to add further to this programme, the option being recommended to the Cabinet is to sell the building under a conditional sale contract.
“This would include specific conditions relating to use, development timescales and buy back in the event of failure to deliver.
“The capital receipt to the council would be less than from an unconditional sale, however it would enable the council to inform what is provided on the site and ensure toilet provision is delivered.
“There is considerable public interest in the future of Westbrook Loggia and overwhelmingly feedback from the public engagement last year was for improvements to be made as swiftly as possible, with an emphasis on supporting the local community and enhancing the experience for residents and visitors to Westbrook Bay.”
A report to councillors says: “The pandemic stalled some of the activity identified in the action plan, however the development of the Westbrook Loggia site could deliver against the first action – to identify a site (as a pilot) that could combine essential public services (toilets, changing, showers, water, lifeguard station) with destination food and drink experiences and activities. The commercial operation is to support the capital and revenue costs of the public function.”
The council hopes redevelopment would encourage tourist trade. Thanet has some 4.6 million visitors per year, worth around £352 million to the local economy and providing 8,664 jobs.
The report adds: “An increase in the value of the visitor economy, and the impact the pandemic has had on the interest of people having a ‘staycation’ and looking for breaks in this country, provided a prime opportunity for the council to reconsider the proposals identified for the Westbrook Loggia.
“The district has seen massive growth in the number of AirBnB providers from 1,019 in 2019 to 1,531 in January 2022 (taken from AirDNA reports).
“Thanet’s beaches and coastline are overwhelmingly what motivates people to visit, currently approximately 75% of the district’s visitors are day visitors, and in order to increase the economic impact of tourism more quality accommodation needs to be developed.
“Demand for sea views and ones that can offer an experience is high, and has the potential to stand out and compete with other coastal destinations. In the recently published Kent Visitor Perception research conducted by Visit Kent one of the key findings highlighted the importance of accommodation in driving destination decisions is stronger than ever, particularly among younger people.
“For almost 50% of travellers, accommodation represents a significant influence and 17% went as far saying the accommodation IS the holiday.”
The report cites successful ‘beach lodge’ schemes in areas such as Bournemouth and Southbourne.
A public consultation last year on the Loggia’s future gained 822 responses with people saying they would like a beachfront café/ restaurant/ takeaway food kiosk; a wellbeing hub; holiday accommodation and beach and watersports retail.
A suitable new location is currently being negotiated for Thanet Lifeguard Club and a temporary licence for food and drink is being advertised to offer a small unit to accommodate users of the beach for this summer.
Previous expressions of interest included one from Mixed Martial Arts fighter Cameron Else with plans for Project Combat Westbrook which would have housed Fight the Demon HQ mental health charity, Hot Yoga, Mr Sport Nutrition Kitchen and Westbrook Water Sports.
The Project Combat scheme was also submitted for the Margate Town Deal scheme – bidding for £25 million of government cash – but did not make the shortlist despite local popularity.
At a meeting on June 16 Cabinet members are expected to approve an option to sell the building under a conditional sale contract with specific sale conditions relating to use, development timescales and buy back in the event of failure to deliver.
The report is available to view here. The Cabinet meeting will be live-streamed.