THE hated IMAX is coming down.

In a shock move, Bournemouth’s most controversial building has been purchased by the council in a £7.5m deal and the site will be redeveloped.

The decision to buy the Waterfront complex was ratified by a full meeting of councillors on Tuesday night who knew nothing of the plan in advance.

Contracts were exchanged with the pension fund owners, Nilgos, this morning.

The surprise development, which has been kept closely under wraps while the lengthy negotiations have been carried out, spells the beginning of the end for the Imax.

Leader of the Conservative-controlled council, Cllr Stephen MacLoughlin, told the Daily Echo: “We have listened to Bournemouth’s residents who want to see the seafront rid of the detested Imax building.”

He added: “We have given the existing occupiers enough time to deliver on this site and will not wait any longer.

THERE were years of false starts before a developer finally started building a tourist attraction on the site of Bournemouth’s former swimming baths at Pier Approach in 1998.

Although other businesses in the Waterfront building opened in the autumn of 1999, the IMAX itself was plagued by delays.

It finally opened in March 2002, two years and eight months late.

But visitor numbers were disappointing and in January 2003, the cinema shed jobs and closed four days a week out of season.

The IMAX closed for refurbishment in Easter 2005 and never re-opened.

“This is the first step in the process and there are still a number of hurdles to be overcome before we can bring back some sea views and start redevelopment of the site of an all weather attraction. This will not happen overnight but we know this will have widespread public support.”

Deputy leader John Beesley said: “Solving the Imax problem has been one of the biggest priorities since we came to power in May 2007.”

But he warned: “There is still plenty of work to do before we can achieve out ultimate aim of redevelopment.

“This is arguably the most important site in the heart of Bournemouth and is key to everything we want to do in the town centre.”

He said: “This is a prime seafront location and our aspirations extend simply beyond just getting rid of the eyesore. We want to development a new facility which can accommodate leisure, arts, culture and entertainment attractions for the public to enjoy whatever the weather.”

As much as residents and visitors will be delighted to see the back of the Imax, the decision to purchase the building – for which permission was granted by the council in 1997 – is bound to be hugely contentious at a time of a massive public spending squeeze in both central and local government.

The purchase has been funded through existing capital receipts and prudential borrowing.

Cllr Beesley pledged there would no material effect on frontline services, which are funded from a different pot of money, revenue spending.

He said the council had taken advantage of the recession to make this deal happen with the Waterfront being purchased for around half the £15m it would have cost two years ago, when the council first made enquires The council still needs to secure vacant possession from the remaining sub-tenants.

Businesses still operating include Harbour Lights, KFC and Coyote Ugly.

“I hope we can come to a satisfactory agreement with the remaining sub-lessees through negotiation, but compulsory purchase is also an option,” added Cllr Beesley.

The redevelopment, in whatever form, will be carried out with private money as part of the town centre master vision.

Cllr MacLoughlin said the future development of the site would enhance Bournemouth’s image and reputation as Britain’s premier resort.

• SEVEN pages charting the Imax story and this, the latest chapter, in Thursday’s (January 21) Daily Echo.