TWENTY years ago, Bournemouth was preparing to get the all-weather attraction that many in its tourism industry had been calling for.

But as the Waterfront building took shape in the autumn and winter of 1998, the reaction was not what had been expected.

Instead of excitedly looking forward to the opening of a giant-screen Imax cinema, restaurants and bars, many locals were shocked at the scale of the iron skeleton that was taking shape.

The site at the Pier Approach had been empty since 1986, when Bournemouth council tore down the swimming baths that had stood there for 49 years.

The idea of putting an Imax cinema on the site first cropped up in 1988. Unlike many cinemas which carry the name today, the original Imax format used giant-format celluloid film to create huge, razor-sharp pictures, often in 3D.

Many in Bournemouth’s tourism industry had been frustrated by the long delay in getting an all-weather attraction built to replace the swimming baths.

A leisure scheme including an Imax, casino, bars, restaurants and rides was given received outline planning permission in 1996.

By the time a detailed application was submitted the next year, the height of the proposed building had grown by 17ft. But there were only two public objections, and neither was about the size of the building.

At first, Bournemouth’s planning committee deferred a decision on the scheme, pending a traffic assessment and more details on various other points.

But, under pressure from the council’s leadership, echoed in the columns of the Echo, the committee capitulated.

A special council meeting the same day backed the Waterfront scheme by 35 votes to seven.

As the building took shape, many were outraged at the loss of the view over Poole Bay from Bath Hill.

Defenders argued that this view had only been visible for a few seconds of a car journey, and that the Waterfront was not substantially bulkier than the swimming baths.

We will never know whether a successful Imax could have won people over.

Other businesses in the building – including a KFC, a Wacky Warehouse pub and the nightclub Jumpin Jaks – opened as planned. But the Imax, due to open in July 1999, was almost three years late.

It finally opened on March 19 2002, when an invited audience had the chance to see Cyberworld 3D on the 62ft by 82ft screen.

The films on offer were short subjects, including breathtaking footage of natural phenomena and the first movie shot in space. But the operator had to spend significant sums to buy prints, rather than rent them. And the widespread release of major feature films such as the Batman and Star Wars series in Imax was still a crucial year or two away.

By January 2003, the Imax was closed four days a week out of season. As the Daily Echo later revealed, the operator, Sheridan, was breaking a legal agreement to keep the cinema open all year round for 10 years.

Meanwhile, Imaxes in other venues were proving not to have been the crowd-pleasers people hoped. Sheridan’s first Imax, in Dublin, closed in 2000, and Birmingham’s in 2004.

In 2005, Bournemouth’s Sheridan Imax closed for a refurbishment ahead of the Easter holidays. The refurbishment did not happen and it never reopened.

Many of the other businesses in the Waterfront building struggled without the footfall the Imax was supposed to bring.

Bournemouth council eventually spent £7.5million buying the building in 2010 and evicting the remaining tenants, including the Harbour Lights pub and Wacky Warehouse.

The building was demolished in 2013. The giant Imax screen – which took two weeks to install – was reportedly slashed to remove the valuable speakers behind it.

Much of the demolition material was recycled, and you can still sit in a comfortable Imax seat if you visit Boscombe’s Shelley Theatre.

By the time the building was gone, the bill to the public purse stood at around £10m.

So far, all that has taken the place of the Imax is an outdoor performance area, where Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra became the first attraction that summer – ironically, playing a programme of John Williams film music.

Bournemouth council plans to open a ‘Smugglers’ Cove’ adventure golf attraction at the site next year.

But it is pursuing the idea in the face of public calls for it to consider an outdoor swimming pool instead.

Not for the first time, the Pier Approach site is proving to be the subject of a lot of debate.