Visitor Attractions, Science Centres, Galleries and Museums are designed to contribute to the greater good of society but are also used as catalysts for renewal. Some are designed to deliver a return on investment, others are not for profit but with the bigger responsibility of regeneration. The concept of using attractions to cause regeneration is not new, but equally not universally successful and those who can remember the Millennium will recall that Lottery money brought generously funded but often ill-conceived attempts to jump-start redevelopment. For every such attraction that proved to be a success at least three failed to deliver on the aspirations that were envisaged at the outset.
The mistakes made seem obvious now, but expecting an attraction like the Earth Centre in Doncaster, which was developed in isolation from and ahead of other regeneration activity, to survive and thrive and bring a wave of inward investment was clearly unrealistic. The Centre for Popular Music in the middle of Sheffield should have stood a better chance but did not attract the young fans that were envisaged and is now the Students' Union building for Sheffield Hallam University. The National Garden Centre in Wales was in the middle of nowhere, with no resident population to provide the daily footfall. But so is the Eden Centre and somehow Tom Smit got it right.
The National Waterfront Museum in Swansea is possibly one of the best examples in the UK of a holistic approach. The Museum was created as part of the grand vision to connect the city to its waterfront, giving new life to old buildings, creating desirable public spaces, revitalising retail and housing, and developing new physical links with the city centre. Within this whole package the Museum's role was to ensure that the area became and remained a desirable place to live, work, visit and enjoy, both during daylight hours and into the evening. It needed to add footfall to the night time economy, the type of users that might not necessarily be on the waterfront after dark.
It is impossible to be specific about how much Swansea's success is down to the Museum or to speculate about the precise impact it had on private investment. Without doubt however its contribution has been widely recognised and without the Museum the waterfront would have been a poorer place - both literally and metaphorically. One key factor in the success was the partnership scheme of funding which was agreed between the National Museum of Wales, the City and County Councils - a stable platform from the day the Museum opened. Swansea Council sees the Waterfront Museum as an important catalyst in the regeneration of the city and for numerous projects in the immediate environs.
A further scheme that really did kick-start multi-million pound investments back in 2000 was the Lowry Centre on Salford Quays, immediately followed by the Imperial War Museum North, Daniel Liebeskind's masterpiece of dark art. However it is the arrival of the BBC into Media City that has really secured Salford as a classic example of urban regeneration. For it is here on the banks of the former Ship Canal that residential tower blocks are occupied and commanding a premium.
If they can make it work in Manchester and South Wales, what is possible in Ipswich? Read part two of this article in the July Newsletter.