Published: 08:01, 19 February 2016
A question mark hangs over the future of tourist attraction Dickens World.
The previous owners haven’t renewed their lease, which expired on December 31, and it's understood talks are being held with Medway Council about a possible change of use for the Chatham Maritime venue.
The Britannia Theatre and Porter’s Bar, which are part of the complex, are believed to be coming under new management, with a major refurbishment planned.
Dickens World has had a chequered history.
The £62 million leisure centre, which recreates the novels of Charles Dickens, finally opened its doors in May 2007 after several delays.
It was billed as one of the county’s top attractions, and set out to lure the thousands of tourists who flock to Rochester’s Dickens festivals each year.
When it first opened, it included a Great Expectations-themed boat ride, a haunted house, a 4D movie at Peggoty’s boathouse, an interactive Victorian schoolhouse and a Fagin’s den play area.
But the original company, Dickens World Ltd, placed itself in administration when it was unable to meet a £6 million tax bill, with investors losing £32 million.
The attraction was losing £500,00 to £1 million each year, and it was only its ownership of the neighbouring Odeon cinema and restaurant that kept it afloat.
Under the new ownership of Britannia Entertainment Ltd, admission prices were cut and the boat ride was scrapped.
After Dickens World Ltd went bust, its company director, Ed De Lucy, became a director of Britannia Entertainments but he resigned in 2013 after unveiling the scale of the losses.
He passed on his role to former general manager Lenny Andreou, who now runs Kent Discount Cards from an office in Sittingbourne.
Mr Andreou said: “I felt it was time for me to try something new.”
Under Britannia Entertainments, a lot of work was done to try to establish the theatre as a separate venue with high-profile gigs and party nights.
But this year, according to the business’s website, a number of events have aleady been cancelled, including appearances by comic Jenny Eclair and singer Joe Longthorne.
One woman who didn’t want to be named said: “I called the ticket line to ask if the Jenny Eclair show was being rescheduled and I was told it wasn’t and it had been cancelled due to poor ticket sales.
“The lady I spoke to said we would get a refund.”
Another who had booked to see Joe Longthorne was told the cancellation might possibly be due to the performer being ill recently, but Mr Longthorne is still scheduled to appear in Leeds three days later.