by Trevor Sturgess
The home of the Kent Show at Detling is to be transformed in two phases into the Kent Event Centre (KEC), offering conference and exhibition facilities suitable for a massive event such as the Motor Show or a more modest wedding reception.
The first phase, costing around £1m, involves gutting the Stanley Cornwallis Building and replacing it internally with a flexible space for conferences, meetings and wedding receptions.
The project will be funded from society reserves and bank loans.
In the second phase, costing around £6m, the entire Kent Pavilion complex, including the Astor Pavilion, will be demolished and replaced with an "iconic" conference, events and a rural education complex.
Hadlow College is teaming up with Kent County Agricultural Society, the owners of the 200-acre Detling site, and injecting £2m. Work on this phase would start immediately after the 2011 show and be completed before the 2012 show.
The latest scheme is less ambitious than the original £26m plan that would have turned the showground into an equine centre and Olympic training camp.
But the revised plan, designed to safeguard the future of the loss-making Kent Show, is nevertheless bold for KCAS which expects a big revenue boost from the new year-round operation.
The economic climate had been stacked against the original plan and there were no guarantees from the US Olympic equestrian team that they would use the centre.
KEC would be an ideal venue for car or farm machinery launches, much bigger shows than can be accommodated at present, as well as conferences and wedding receptions of all sizes.
Meanwhile, KCAS is setting up two websites, one focusing on the Kent Show, the other on KEC.