IT’S A saga that has had more twists and turns than any of the giant water slides which will soon carry their first summer holiday thrill-seekers on Scarborough’s North Bay.
The political and financial rollercoaster that comes to a halt with Saturday’s grand opening of the Alpamare waterpark has seen the £14m project scale the heights of ambition and plumb the depths of near-disaster.
Only a sizeable loan from the town’s taxpayers has kept afloat a project now hailed by its developer as “like nothing ever seen before in this country”, and a cornerstone in the wider £150m development of the North Bay.
The new waterpark, enclosed and weatherproofed from the North Sea, is said to rival similar attractions in Florida and Dubai, with the UK’s four longest and fastest water slides and an indoor tidal pool that erupts with meter-high waves every 30 minutes.
Few would have predicted such an outcome seven years ago, when the recession caused the idea to be shelved indefinitely, prompting one councillor to complain: “We were promised El Dorado but we haven’t even got Butlin’s.”
Four years later, as the economy improved, the scheme seemed doomed once more when the developer threatened to walk away unless the council handed it £9m. The decision to do so was passed by a single vote.
Even the opening has been beset by delays. The first visitors should have arrived today, but a power outage on Tuesday pushed back the celebrations by 48 hours, and made today’s preview event more a damp squib than a big splash.
Alpamare (pronounced to rhyme with calamari) is not so much a new chapter for Scarborough as another page in a very old one. There was an open air swimming pool on the site as early as 1938, and in the 1980s, buoyed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the time, the local businessman Don Robinson transformed it into Waterscene, replete with what was then the world’s longest chute. They didn’t have Butlin’s but they did have the other holiday camp king, Fred Pontin, to declare it open.
Waterscene went through several changes of name and ownership before falling into public hands, and being finally renamed Atlantis in 1995. It wasn’t weatherproof, though, and with bigger, wetter and warmer attractions on the Mediterranean, its fortunes began to decline.
The drowning tragedy of a 16 year-old swimmer, whom a lifeguard had refused to believe was in trouble, landed the council with a £20,000 legal bill and spelled the beginning of the end. In the 2007 season, amid concerns for the soundness of the flumes, the doors of the attraction stayed locked shut.
At yesterday’s preview, however, they were looking to Scarborough’s future, not its past. Alpamare was hailed by council leader Derek Bastiman as “the most exciting thing we have seen open in recent years”.
The German operator’s chief executive, Dr Anton Hoefter, said: “My father founded this company by wanting to bring the sea to the Alps, I like to think that now we have brought the Alps to the sea.”
He added: “We couldn’t think of a better location to be launching our first ever UK attraction.”
Welcome To Yorkshire’s chief executive, Sir Gary Verity, pointed to Scarborough’s “huge renaissance”, encompassing the harbour, Spa, Open Air Theatre and new hotels - one of which will be built next to the waterpark. Before that, a European-style “wellness spa” is due to open there early next year.