The boss of Brighton’s Palace Pier has approached the council in a bid to takeover operations of the town’s i360.
Entrepreneur Luke Johnson approached the council after news that operators of the struggling tourist attraction had requested a significant delay to £6 million in loan repayments, due to be repaid over the next six years.
In a letter to the council, Johnson said: “I wish to protest strongly over the arrangement being proposed by the council executive and the struggling i360 attraction.
“This project was funded with over £40m of public money – most of it from Brighton & Hove Council,” added Johnson.
The i360 project cost £46.2 million in total, with 87 percent of the capital coming from the public purse.
The council is due to receive £570,000 in interest twice a year on loan repayments which are then passed on to the government.
However, operators of the viewing tower are asking to reduce payments to £25,000 until 2024 to compensate for poor visitor numbers.
Johnson said in his letter to Brighton and Hove City Council: “It is quite inconceivable that any normal lender would have extended nearly as much money as a proportion of the whole funding for a pure start-up.
“Now, to compound that mistake, you are recommending that the council approve a debt rescheduling which represents a 96 per cent reduction in interest payments for i360 over the next six years.
“Under the current i360 management visitor numbers are roughly half the original projections on which the loan was based.
“I have extensive experience of debt restructuring – and in these circumstances the lender would seek to repossess the security and change the management.”
Johnson, who bought Brighton Palace Pier in 2016 for £18 million, has a proven track record of successful investments having turned around the fortunes of struggling businesses such the Pizza Express chain.
“Brighton Pier Group is a significant employer and payer of business rates in Brighton. I am also involved with other businesses locally which are major employers and pay significant business rates. We do not get this sort of special treatment,” said the businessman.
“As an alternative, Brighton Pier Group PLC would be willing to take on a management contract to run the i360 attraction on behalf of the Council.
“We are confident that we could make savings and efficiencies across the two businesses in areas like marketing, procurement, accounting, HR, IT and other administration costs.
“We are also confident we could cross-market the two attractions and thereby boost visitor numbers and events.”
“Currently there must be a serious possibility that the i360 is worth significantly less than it cost to build.
“Our suggestion is surely a better solution than continuing to support a management team which has seen frequent leadership changes and has not met targets.”
With an influence in Brighton that cannot be understated, and his proposed idea of connecting the two attractions likely to benefit tourism and the town as a whole, Johnson’s experience of troubleshooting could just affect the 360 degree turnaround the struggling i360 needs.