Tenders for Liverpool's National Discovery Park are now expected to go out by the end of November - at the end of a frantic year which saw the millennium project totally redesigned and rescued from the brink of collapse.
The net result is that opening of the Discovery Centre - five floors and 8,100m2 of interactive exhibition area and a 250 seat Imax cinema - with an adjacent commercial office development will not be until well into 2001.
During the year plans for a huge glazed canopy covering park have been scrapped, as has the proposed landmark bridge spanning to the Albert Dock Development alongside.
Millennium Commission funding for the 91.4M project has shrunk from the original 27M to around 23M after predicted levels of sponsorship and commercial match funding failed to materialise. However, in total around 125M will be spent on the park and accompanying developments.
The scheme is promoted by the Liverpool Millennium Consortium, led by the Anglican Church-backed organisation Rosemary Chevasse. According to project manager Mark McManus, the result will be a more accessible and popular attraction for the city.
'We have refocused the project towards more friendly horticulture rather than hard surfaces,' says McManus. 'We now have something that is a lot greener which will be a mix of entertainment, education and inspiration for visitors.'
Whether it matters that the project will be unfinished until after the city's celebrations at the end of 1999 is a moot point. The plan now is to achieve a 'soft' park opening by the end of 2000 - the date now adopted by the project as the 'true' start of the millennium. This will be followed by the opening of the Discovery Centre to visitors by Easter 2001.
The project ran into trouble last January when the Millennium Commission refused to approve plans, unhappy at the lack of distinction between the public site and the neighbouring Media Factory commercial development aimed at encouraging IT businesses in the area and part-funded by European Regional Development Funding.
Architect Brock Carmichael had to overhaul the scheme to make this distinction more apparent. Although there is still a close link between the exhibits in the visitor centre and the IT firms in the Media Factory, there is now a complete division between the two. The 13,500m2 Media Factory is now being promoted by a new joint venture between TCI and Rosemary Chevasse with a 6.95M EU grant.
The architect also had to increase the size of the commercial areas to maximise the revenue returns, after the consortium realised there was risk of creating an oversupply of covered performance areas in Liverpool and neighbouring Manchester. Estimates for the commercial returns from the performance area had therefore to be scaled down with the result that plans for a canopy over the park had to be scrapped.
Brock Carmichael senior partner Martyn Coppin says the reallocation of space created an imbalance in the project's design symmetry, making construction of the canopy impractical. 'Rather than trying to adapt the project we felt it was better to rethink it and go back to the history of the site. What we now have will we hope encourage a lot more people to use the park.'
It is now expected that funding for the project, which is also backed by LMC members Liverpool City Council, Morrison Developments and English Partnerships, will be in place by the end of November. Work should start in July and construction costs are likely to be in the region of 70M.