Published: 11:32, 17 December 2018
| Updated: 11:59, 17 December 2018
Ashford's town centre development opened on Saturday, marking the end of a one-and-a-half year building project.
Elwick Place - which contains a six-screen Picturehouse cinema and a 58-room Travelodge Hotel - cost £75 million to build and is part of Ashford Borough Council's Big 8 projects to improve the town.
The opening took place almost a week before the original scheduled unveiling date, however it suffered from a week's delay following emergency electrical work under the site.
Five-year-old schoolboy Henry Rowles helped launch the leisure complex alongside Leader of the Council Cllr Gerry Clarkson, whose memory of the town is among those engraved on slabs around the site.
The so-called "Elwick Etchings" were also unveiled during the weekend ceremony by Mayor of Ashford Cllr Jessamy Blanford, highlighting more than 100 personal stories of those who have lived and worked in the town over the years.
The town's heritage is displayed further at the facility by the re-instatement of the renowned Ashford market's original gateposts which have been out of the public eye for about 50 years. A new metal gate between the posts features a simplified map of the borough.
Elwick Place has already had a royal visit, when HRH Princess Helen of Romania revealed a statue of her great-grandmother Queen Marie, who was born at nearby Eastwell Manor in 1875.
Developers Stanhope PLC celebrated Saturday's opening with live music from the Folkestone Community Swing Band and children's arts and crafts activities.
Speaking about the opening, Leader of the Council Gerry Clarkson said: "It was splendid. There was a band playing and a lot of people turned out.
"We're very impressed with the whole complex, and we're glad that a lot of people signed up as members on the day - myself and my wife included.
"The out-of-town cinema has done very well since the recession in 2008, and over the last 10 years they've asked for more screens and more facilities. You only have to look at the old cinema to see it's a thriving part of Ashford, so I'm very pleased we have invested in a town centre and it will benefit the town's residents."
It was revealed in September that the eight restaurant and cafe units installed in the 100,000sq ft building remained without a tenant, a statistic that remains to the present day. Last week, the council admitted that taxpayers may foot the rent bill if the stores are still empty in March.
In response to this, Cllr Clarkson said: "My cup is never half full or half empty, it's always overflowing. I'm supremely confident that, now the hoardings are down and people can look around the building, there'll be no problem filling them up at all.
"In six months' time, I'm sure Elwick Place will be buzzing."
Alongside the facility's opening, was the adjoining car parks. The council's new 282-space Elwick Place car park has 14 disabled bays and four electric vehicle charging point bays. The latter number is expected to rise to 12 charging spaces in the future.
Cllr Graham Galpin, portfolio holder for the town centre, said: "The new Elwick Place car park is an important addition to the town centre. It’s conveniently placed for visits to the new Picturehouse Cinema, which also opened on Saturday, yet allows shoppers easy access to the town centre so that they can undertake their shopping with ease."
Charges start at £2.20 for up to two hours of parking. The Travelodge hotel is set to open later this month.
For more information on film screenings, visit www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Ashford_Picturehouse