Published: 11:45, 07 June 2019
| Updated: 13:43, 07 June 2019
Restaurant units remain empty six months after a cinema and hotel complex opened - but details of the first tenants are expected “imminently”.
The multimillion-pound Elwick Place development opened in December, bringing a six-screen Picturehouse cinema and Travelodge hotel to the town.
But eight restaurants initially expected to be filled by big-name chains still sit vacant - despite previous assurances from Ashford Borough Council bosses that the spots would be occupied.
However, authority chiefs say an announcement revealing the first tenants is coming soon - and KentOnline understands the council has held talks with a gym and coffee shop as well as national restaurant chains about filling the spots.
A media company is also understood to have been in discussions with the authority about taking up a unit, along with a railway museum which is believed to be linked to plans for a larger museum elsewhere in the town.
Council chiefs have also held talks with a hairdressers about moving in.
Speaking at the opening of the complex last December, council leader Gerry Clarkson said he was sure the units would be filled.
“In six months’ time, I’m sure Elwick Place will be buzzing,” he said last year.
“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.”
Six months on, the council says it is now preparing to reveal the first occupants.
A spokesman said: “An announcement is imminent revealing the first tenants to sign terms at Elwick Place.
“This is as a result of interest from a number of retail providers in the units at Elwick Place.
“The council has been working hard to convert this interest and we look forward to unveiling who will be the first to join Picturehouse and Travelodge very shortly.
“In addition to some long-term tenants who are extremely close to signing agreements, we have been in detailed and confidential discussions with a number of potential tenants on taking up occupation at Elwick Place in the short term, and again, we hope to provide an update shortly.”
Ashford Borough Council says a business rates exemption means taxpayers are not having to foot the bill for the empty units.
The exemption was only expected to cover the first three months, but the spokesman said the authority is still not having to cover the costs.
He added: “It is widely known that the retail market across the UK is facing major challenges, therefore it has long been planned that Elwick Place would open in phases, with the main anchor tenants and the site opening before Christmas, and other units being let during 2019.
“The two main anchor tenants, Picturehouse and Travelodge, which we believe are trading well, have proved to be very welcome additions to our town centre.
“We know that Travelodge has achieved full occupancy on a number of occasions, which is hugely encouraging.
“We remain confident all the units will be filled in time.
“All our investments, including Elwick Place, will secure long-term revenue streams for the council and taxpayers through rents and business rates so we can sustain and improve services for our residents and ensure Ashford continues to have the lowest council tax in the county.”
The general manager at Ashford Picturehouse, Ben Hammond, is positive about the complex’s future, saying: "We have seen customer trends all moving in a very positive direction, from general footfall through to paid visits and retail spend, trends we expect to see continue."