Published: 12:03, 23 November 2018
| Updated: 12:59, 23 November 2018
The opening of a new multimillion-pound leisure complex in a town centre has been brought forward.
Final touches are almost in place at the Elwick Place development in Ashford, which is costing £75m.
It is yet to be confirmed exactly when the six-screen Picturehouse cinema and 58-room Travelodge hotel will open next month, but the site will open to the public on Saturday, December 8 when hoardings around the perimeter are removed.
Originally intended for Friday, December 21, the opening will pave the way for restaurants to spring up on the former market site in January, bosses say.
A total of eight restaurants are proposed, but developers at Stanhope PLC are struggling to attract tenants to fill them, as revealed by the Kentish Express earlier this year.
On December 8, five-year-old Henry Rowles will officially open the development with Ashford Borough Council leader Gerry Clarkson at 10am.
The original market gateposts have been restored and will be revealed on the day.
The iconic pillars, which were erected in 1878 by J U Bugler, will be displayed in the development to showcase the site's history.
They have been kept in storage for years and developers hope they will act as a meeting point for visitors when the scheme opens.
Gary Bourne, Director of Stanhope PLC, said the opening will be an important moment.
He said: "We are proud to have reached this milestone in opening the Elwick Place development to the people of Ashford.
"The community will be at the very heart of this initial opening event, as they should be, with their stories forever told in the new walkways of the town.
"It is an honour to have Henry taking the role of key holder to the town’s new leisure scheme and we hope Ashford will be there to cheer him on.
“We remain in discussions with a number of restaurant operators, including independent businesses, about the opportunities available.
“These conversations remain commercially sensitive and we look forward to sharing this news and seeing the restaurant units open in 2019.”
The Elwick etchings art project will also be revealed at the opening, depicting Ashford's history.
Mayor Jessamy Blanford will formally unveil the work and the authors of each etching will be invited to see their words immortalised in granite on the Elwick Place pavements.
Later in December, there are also plans to reveal a Queen Marie of Romania statue at the development, which will feature a 282-space car park.
The monarch, who built bridges between Romania and the UK, was born in Ashford and the sculpture would be placed in a public space area if introduced.
Queen Marie of Romania was born Princess Marie Alexandra Victoria of Edinburgh on October 29, 1875 at Eastwell Park.
She spent much of her early life at the park in Boughton Aluph, which her mother is said to have preferred to Clarence House, her official residence.
Romanian dignitaries will unveil the statue, paying homage to her strong Ashford links.
Cllr Clarkson said: "The restoration of the old market gateposts and their inclusion in the public plaza is an important reminder of Ashford’s position as the market town of Kent.
"While Ashford continues to develop as a thriving business hub for the South East we must never forget our heritage as a leading centre of agricultural and rural business life.
“I’m also delighted to see the Elwick Etchings initiative come to life.
"Ashford residents embraced the opportunity to leave a lasting mark on the scheme by sharing their stories and I look forward to reading them.”
Bosses say the free event on December 8 will run from 10am until 1pm with live swing music from the Folkestone Community Swing Band and children’s arts and crafts activities.
They added the cinema and hotel will be "launching individually" later in December as part of the site's "phased opening".