Next step set for £7m Porthcawl maritime centre
A planned £7m maritime centre for the south Wales seaside town of Porthcawl is set to take a big step forward as its backers prepare to launch a search for contractors to build it.
Porthcawl Harbourside said work should begin in mid 2017, with the building expected to open by 2018 or 2019.
It will house water sport and exercise facilities, a coastal science centre, a cafe and an outdoor theatre.
The project was awarded a £1.1m Big Lottery grant in October.
The money will go towards developing the land, which is owned by Bridgend council.
Porthcawl Harbourside was formed by a collaboration between the Welsh Surfing Federation and Porthcawl Sea Cadets with involvement from two of the now-directors, town councillor and former mayor Mike Clarke and Stuart Bentley, a resident with a background in architecture.
Mr Clarke said the Cosy Corner site where the centre would be built - named after the former Cosy Cinema which stood on the area along with a skating rink - will reflect its history as a "bustling centre of activity and a magnet for tourists".
Operations director Mark Bryant told BBC Wales the group expected to get to the procurement stage "this side of Christmas" when an invitation to tender would go out to find a contractor to build the centre.
According to Mr Bryant, support from the local community has been "incredible".
"We couldn't have done it without them. They've been instrumental in getting it off the ground," he said.
"We're working with the Chamber of Commerce to the Civic Trust to the YMCA. They've all been really supportive.
"The whole town has really come together behind it."
He said a key philosophy behind the project, which is run on a not-for-profit basis, was social benefits for the whole community. The centre is aiming to offer 50 full-time equivalent jobs.
The site will offer a coastal maritime science and discovery centre, including environmental, culture, local history and community learning in partnership with Swansea University, and a public viewing gallery nicknamed the crow's nest with a camera obscura - which allows people to look out to sea - and facilities for lifeguards and emergency services.
The National Governing Body of Surfing in Wales and the Sea Cadets will be based there, along with a Welsh surf museum, a gym, training pool, water sport facilities with toilets and shower facilities and conference space for up to 100 people.
There will also be an indoor gallery and an outdoor amphitheatre, along with office space, accommodation and a cafe/bistro open into the evening, which Mr Bryant said would be a training cafe offering opportunities for catering students.
The harbour area of the town is one of the places where work has progressed in recent years, while other schemes to regenerate the town centre have stalled.
In a separate development, work began in September on restoring the Grade II-listed Jennings building which has overlooked the harbour for more than 180 years.
The developers, ABA Holdings, are converting it into commercial units, with a theatre-style restaurant and bar and 13 home studios with bedrooms which will allow people to live and work on site.
Those units are already rented, according to the council.
Responses from the local community have been positive in the main, although there have been some concerns raised about a lack of parking associated with the project.
Jo Richards, whose family has run Walters Shoes in Porthcawl for 140 years, said the project was a "great thing" for the town.
"I think it will be great for footfall in the town, which a small town like Porthcawl always needs," she said.
"There hasn't been any major non-commercial development for a long time. Almost everyone has welcomed it."
Sophie Evans, who works at the Marine Hotel on the seafront, said: "I think it's a good idea because it will bring more people to Porthcawl. Particularly if it brings more people in the winter months, because that's when we need people.
"It will will be good to have something there because when my parents were younger it was busy. It doesn't seem like it's used much."