Look back at Weston-Super-Mare's Tropicana as new work is set to begin

  • Watch footage of the Tropicana over the decades.

The Tropicana has been a part of Weston-super-Mare's seafront for nearly 100 years and has had a history as colourful as its water slides of the 80s.

For years, North Somerset Council has been trying to get funding to refurbish it again and finally work is set to begin at the end of summer 2024.

The work will increase the capacity of the venue and it will make it suitable for “a flexible range of activities.”

Works will also include repairs to roofing, heating, lighting, ventilation, walls, floors, drainage, and toilets.

Between £5 million and £7 million will be spent on making it a "multi-use flexible entertainment space", secured from the government's Levelling Up Fund.

The Tropicana opened in 1937 as a swimming pool with an art deco diving board

But, as a council report warns, the venue is “underused and fails to generate adequate income to fully cover costs.”

Now, North Somerset Council is looking for a commercial operator to take on the running of the Tropicana for a 25-year lease once the refurbishment has been completed.

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s place, economy and planning scrutiny panel on Wednesday 22 November, the council’s assistant director for placemaking and growth Jenny Ford said that there had been a wide range of commercial operators interested in taking the Tropicana on.

She told councillors: “We have had everything from extreme sports facilities to higher culture.”

But she insisted it would not be a “free for all” that would allow the venue to become something like a nightclub. She said: “We won’t be opening the doors to any sort of operator. There will be a procurement process.”

Weston-super-Mare Uphill councillor Helen Thorton questioned whether plans for a swimming pool were being considered. She said: “If you ask most people in Weston, that’s still what they want.”

But Weston-super-Mare Hillside councillor John Crockford-Hawley insisted it was not happening. Ms Ford added that the funding would not stretch to converting the Tropicana back to a swimming pool.

The venue is currently hosting Icescape, the UK's largest outdoor ice rink, but it began life as a swimming pool.

The Tropicana is currently hosting the UK's largest outdoor ice rink

In 1937 it opened to the public as an open-air swimming pool, known simply as The Pool. It had an Art Deco diving board and was thought to be the largest open-air swimming pool in Europe.

In the 1980s it was rebranded as the Topicana with slides and wave machine

In 1983 it was rebranded as Tropicana with the slogan: "It's fun and fruity. It's wet and wild". The concrete diving board was demolished and a wave machine and water slides were brought in. It finally closed in 2000.

The venue closed down in 2000 and was nearly demolished

Over the next 15 years, several plans were put forward for the venue, including demolition. However, the site was saved and in August 2015 Banksy's Dismaland opened there.

The art installation labelled a "sinister twist on Disneyland", ran until September 2015 and attracted 150,000 visitors and an estimated £20 million in extra revenue for Weston-Super-Mare.

The Tropicana played host to Banksy's Dismaland in 2015

Since 2016 the Tropicana has been available to hire out for events and has seen a programme of live music, theatre, comedy, funfairs and circuses by the sea.

Construction is expected to start at the end of summer 2024, but the scheme will need planning permission first.

The money from the Levelling Up Fund has to be spent by March 2025, but Ms Ford said the council were applying for an extension.

A report setting out the planned procurement process for an operator will be brought before North Somerset Council in early 2024.