Building work has started on the world's first ‘vertical cable car’ observation tower, designed by the architects who created the London Eye.
Brighton's i360 will be the highest observation tower in the UK outside of London, transforming the seafront into the equivalent of the Capital's South Bank, according to architect Marks Barfield.
Standing at the former entrance of the grade I-listed West Pier on the seafront, the pod, which will be 18m in diameter and hold up to 200 people at a time, will provide a 360-degree view through curved glass and will travel upwards from street level to 138m above sea level before descending, a spokeswoman for the project said.
Today the ground in front of the entrance was formally broken to mark the start of the building work for the tower which is expected to be open to visitors by summer 2016.
The i360 has been designed by architects Marks Barfield and will also have the international team of engineers and contractors who worked on the London Eye helping with its construction.
David Marks, of Marks Barfield Architects, said: "It has taken over eight years to get to this point but the Brighton i360 will now be a reality and will be one of the most exciting visitor attractions in the world.
"The i360 will be the world's first vertical cable car; an engineering wonder and a major new performing arts, conference, dining and hospitality venue for Brighton. It will generate more footfall to this part of Brighton – and we hope bring about the sort of transformation that the London Eye helped create on the South Bank."
The structure has been designed by Jacobs, a global provider of technical professional and construction services including visitor attractions and passenger carrying rides, who will manage the project with Hove engineering firm, the Hemsley Orrell Partnershi.
Main contractor Hollandia, who built the London Eye structure, will be responsible for building the steel tower which will be jacked up in sections. It will be transported in separate pieces on a ship, arriving on Brighton beach in early summer next year, the spokeswoman said.
Poma, who built the 32 London Eye capsules, is a French company which manufactures cable-driven lift systems, including funiculars, aerial tramways, people movers, and surface lifts. It will be responsible for the construction of the i360 pod.
Once open, the attraction is expected to draw in an additional 700,000 tourists and up to £25m of revenue into Brighton's economy annually, according to Brighton and Hove City Council leader Jason Kitcat.
He said: "Longer term the i360 will benefit the city through annual interest payments of over £1m, as well as 1 per cent of ticket sales in perpetuity, as well as creating jobs and investment."
It is estimated that the i360 will generate more than 440 permanent jobs; 169 at the tower and the rest through other businesses who will benefit from the i360's location.
Last month, contracts were signed by the council for a loan agreement of £36.2m to Brighton i360 Ltd, which comes through the council from a government agency called the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB).
No council tax money is being used to fund it and the profit on the interest from the loan plus business rates will earn the council more than £1m a year, the spokeswoman for the i360 said. The total project cost is £46.2m, including interest, and the architects are investing £6m and have met all costs to date including those for gaining planning permission.
The Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership has also made a seven-year loan of £4m to the project.
Rachel Clark, from the West Pier Trust, said: "This is a very special occasion for the West Pier Trust because it marks the beginning of a long awaited new era. The i360 will be a brilliant attraction and entirely in the spirit of the West Pier – a vertical pier.
"It will transform the site and the entire city. We would like to thank our members for all their support for the i360 and getting us to this point."