THE new owners of South Parade Pier have unveiled their grand plan to save the attraction – and insist they have the wealth to make it a reality.
Speaking to The News for the first time since taking control, Tommy Ware Snr – part of the four-man consortium to have bought the pier – said he has ‘put his money where his mouth is’ and is doing all he can to bring it back to life.
Mr Ware, a local property and car dealer, is ‘confident’ visitors will be back walking the full length of the pier by the end of the year – and the promenade and shops at the front could open to the public ‘within weeks’ if legal issues are cleared up.
The target is to get the jetty at the back of the pier brought up to scratch in time for the America’s Cup World Series in Portsmouth this July – with corporate sponsors declaring their interest in mooring their boats to witness the action.
Mr Ware Snr, 59, who said he is involved with three other investors – son Tommy Ware Jnr, 35, Lawrence ‘Larry’ Mendel and another who wishes to remain anonymous, revealed the quartet have already spent more than £500,000 on repairs to the pier.
He said: ‘We are in it for the long run. We have put all of our own money into it, we have put our money where our mouth is.
‘Repairs at the pier are running into the tens of thousands every month, we are already well beyond the £500,000 mark.
‘If we hadn’t have put any money in that pier, it would have ended up in the sea by now.
‘This has taken a lot of our time up, we have a lot of other businesses to run as well, and we are confident people will be able to walk end to end of the pier by the end of the year.’
The consortium is waiting on the date of a court hearing which will determine whether a dangerous structure notice against the pier can now be amended to allow visitors at the front for the first time in more than a year.
It will also be the first significant step that the 136-year-old pier could be set for a makeover after years of trying to restore it to its former glories.
Mr Ware said: ‘It’s about putting South Parade Pier on the map for all the right ways again.
‘We’ve had talks with Bournemouth Pier about putting in a zip wire at the back, we’ve had enquiries from Germany about putting in a mini-London Eye.
‘We could have things like climbing walls, all of the usual pier attractions.
‘We want to keep it traditional. But make sure everything is up-to-date. We could put in beach huts around the decking that change colours.
‘We’ve had a lot of interest from the pub and restaurant industry, but our first priority has been securing the safety of the pier. Once we’ve got through that, I can relax a little.’
Mr Ware has been keen to silence critics who have been sceptical for him keeping a low profile since exchanging contracts for the sale of the pier last February from previous owners Fred Nash and Dawn Randall.
He rubbished claims by the South Parade Trust – the community trust which had hoped to buy the pier – that it would take 10 to 15 years to repair the attraction, as there is now a ‘lifetime’ maintenance programme in place.
Mr Ware, from Fareham, revealed the whole pier will be opened in phases over the next three to four years, depending on issues such as the weather.
And he said if he was not serious about his investment, he would have taken up an offer for the pier before Christmas.
The News understands a £2m bid for the attraction was made by an unnamed company.
Mr Ware said that would have been a profit on what he had bought the pier for, but declined to say how much the deal was, though it took into account debts owed from the previous owners.
‘We always knew what the expense was going to be with this pier, we don’t go into any business blind,’ he said.
‘I’ve got grandchildren, I want them to be able to enjoy that pier and we want to secure the future of the pier for generations to come.
‘We are very private people. We have had businesses to get on with. We have been in the background getting the job done. We know what we are doing.
‘We haven’t come out by choice, but seeing as everyone was talking about it any way, we thought we should.’
Speaking about why he wanted to snap up the pier, Mr Ware Snr – who revealed he owns commercial and residential properties across the Portsmouth area – said: ‘I am looking at options all the time.
‘We had our eye on the pier for quite a long time, and saw it was looking tired.
‘We had talked about buying it for two years.
‘Then we started to see options to buy it.
‘I phoned Dawn’s father about a year ago. I then spoke to both Dawn and Fred and they gave us a figure and we declined it.’
Mr Ware insisted there was never any delay in the completion of the deal, only debts which had to be cleared, urgent repair work on the pier that had to commence first and the fact he was a ‘private individual’ who does not normally command public attention.
‘There was no delay,’ said Mr Ware.
‘The exchange was going to be about nine months.
‘The previous owners had charges and debts against them which needed sorting.
‘With any business, the longer the completion date the better it is for them.’
To read The News’ view on this click here.