Published: 16:33, 29 May 2020
| Updated: 09:49, 01 June 2020
The first step in overhauling a former Kent Debenhams store has been taken.
The empty windows of Folkestone's now vacant department shop have been filled with a vinyl 'window wrap' designed to promote the struggling town centre.
The display showcases several of the district’s landmark places to visit, its history and heritage and features prominent businesses based in the town.
It also features a map to key locations in the area.
The new display, which was installed this week, is the first stage of the planned 34-window campaign which is the result of a collaboration between businesses, led by Folkestone Independent Regeneration Retail Group (FIRRG) under the myfolkestone.co.uk brand, with the design produced by Think Studio.
Three other Debenhams also closed in Kent at the same time - in Ashford, Chatham and Canterbury.
The deal to buy the Sandgate Road unit was finalised earlier this month.
Eventually FHDC wants to transform the shop into a mixed-use development, which will include a health centre, leisure facilities, flexible workspace and residential properties.
It is hoped the site will become the "centrepiece" of Folkestone.
Cllr David Monk, leader of FHDC, said: "We are committed to Folkestone’s continued regeneration and our recent purchase of this building underlines this.
"We consider the site to be central to the town centre’s future and that’s why we completed on the acquisition of this site in spite of a global pandemic.
"The empty window space is an opportunity to improve the aesthetic of the town centre while plans are developed.
"Some of our traders have been able to operate safely during lockdown and as more shops start reopening in the coming weeks, encouraging people to use the town centre is more important now than ever.
"We are working with local organisations, businesses and individuals on a range of measures to improve the whole town centre experience and will build confidence in using the town centre as lockdown measures ease."
The new plans from the council for the mixed-used development at the site are a turnaround on what the authority proposed last year.
In March 2019, when it was first revealed that Debenhams was at risk, FHDC released a town centre 'masterplan', which included installing a new cinema, plus restaurants and residential units.
This move was not supported by Silver Screen, the town's existing movie theatre.
But the purchase of the former Debenhams store is not the only council-initiative designed to enhance the town centre.
Of that, £2.2m has been earmarked for Folkestone and the remaining £800,000 is to be split between Cheriton, Sandgate, Hythe, Dymchurch, New Romney, Lydd, Hawkinge, Lyminge, Sellindge and Elham.
As at March 2020, £185,733 had been awarded for projects in Folkestone - including the renovation of Market Square restaurant's basement.