Published: 10:00, 11 June 2021
| Updated: 15:18, 11 June 2021
Eight long years after the ambitious vision was first unveiled, a 129-bed hotel will finally open in Canterbury today.
The Hampton by Hilton, which is to be the city centre's biggest hotel, stands six storeys high and has cost £20 million to build.
Hailed as a "fantastic boost" for the local economy, the long-awaited venue is built on the site of the former Slatters hotel, which was demolished to make way for the modern new-build.
The project has faced a number of challenges in recent years, but the venue is now at last ready to welcome its first guests.
It is to open in phases as work is still required on some floors, and the much-anticipated rooftop restaurant boasting views across Canterbury is not launching this week.
An operator for the swanky eatery is yet to be secured, pushing back its opening date.
Once it launches - hoped to be in early September - it will be run entirely separate from the hotel and accessed via a different entrance from the old Georgian frontage in St Margaret's Street.
Development directors Zaw Htut and Mike Wood say they are thrilled to finally be opening the hotel.
"After eight years of getting to this point, it's quite surreal to be here now - it's amazing," Mike said.
"We're so pleased with how it's ended up and can't wait to get open.
"In Hampton by Hilton we've got an international brand which is recognised across the world. That's what we strived for as there are lot of tourists in Canterbury, and a big brand is what the city is missing.
"What really surprised me as it's been built is the variety of the rooms. Because we've combined the old and new building we've ended up with some rooms being more quirky and of all different sizes."
In the main reception area, guests will walk over a section of glass floor where they will look down on the Roman remains of an amphitheatre in the basement, while the ground floor boasts a gym and meeting room areas.
"We've learned a lot along the way and met a lot of people so we've set ourselves for our next project," Zaw said.
"Hopefully the next hotel we do will be much more easy - we don't need it to last eight years!
"Everything you could have ever imagined was thrown at us in this project, with the listed buildings, legal issues, a challenging site, an archaeological dig, budget challenges - we've learned everything you need to learn.
"It's the centre of Canterbury's biggest hotel and everyone we've spoken to can't wait for it to open.
"There's been a big increase in footfall over recent weeks in the city so it's promising, and we've had a lot of bookings."
About 30 staff are employed at the St Margaret's Street hotel, while more jobs will be created when the rooftop restaurant launches in the autumn.
When the restaurant does launch, it will be a "lively" all-day dining concept with live music and DJs in the evenings.
There is, however, still a food offering at the hotel, where non-guests off the street can enjoy a breakfast, lunch or drink.
Manager Scott Jakins, who was brought on about six months ago, said: "It really isn't just a hotel, it's for every member of the public. That's really important as a lot of people think they can't go into a hotel if they aren't a guest, but here it is really open."
Room prices start at £79. Every room boasts a 55-inch TV and guests will benefit from free WiFi.
The two new retail outlets located on the ground floor of the glass fronted new-build are yet to be occupied.
Both are currently on the market and are hoped to be open in the coming months.