For nearly a century, the prominent Powerhub on the banks of the River Medway in St Peter Street has been the first glimpse of Maidstone by visitors arriving by train from London.
Now dilapidated and empty, the rundown edifice does not give a good first impression of the town.
Paul Graham, John Rees and Fraser Whyte - directors of Powerhub developer Terance Butler Holdings - outside the building in Maidstone
Developer Fraser Whyte said: “It’s not a good advertisement for Maidstone as it stands.”
But in its earlier life, this was Tilling-Stevens commercial vehicle factory. Its significance in industrial history – it is a rare example of an American ‘Daylight’ factory – led to Grade II listing by English Heritage in 2011, ruling out the prospect of demolition.
The Powerhub building that is crying out for investment
The building’s potential was spotted by Terance Butler Holdings, a developer based in West Farleigh, near Maidstone, which bought the building from receivers for £3.5 million. But it would cost £10m just to make it “wind and watertight” with no chance of recouping that outlay.
So plans have been drawn up to restore the building as part of a wider mixed-use scheme, with a major facelift creating attractive office and leisure space with around 100 jobs. But the project is only viable with the involvement of a food retailer that would create a further 250 jobs.
A supermarket deal should guarantee sufficient investment funding to cover the total project cost.
An impressive covered entrance structure containing a moving walkway or travelator would front the river.
Studies suggest more retail space is needed on the western side of Maidstone and the new store would be similar in size to the existing Sainsbury’s town centre outlet.
How it looked in 1940 - the camouflaged Tilling-Stevens factory
Three retailers are said to be interested.
A two-storey car park with more than 400 spaces would also be built.
John Rees, managing director of Terance Butler Holdings, said a public consultation earlier in the year had generated a positive response.
“By the time it’s finished, it will look substantially better and more impressive,” he said.
“We’re hopeful of getting planning permission by the end of September and then we will go to work on the next phase which is getting an end user.
"If we can save it [the Powerhub], create jobs and give it a decent lifespan of 50 or 60 years, I think we will have done pretty well.
"There are many developers who wouldn’t take on the challenge and invest the time, effort and money.”
If all goes according to plan, the project could be completed by 2016.
How the Powerhub building and food store could look