Published: 10:23, 23 December 2019
| Updated: 15:58, 23 December 2019
The dream of a big screen in Tenterden has moved closer to reality with the awarding of a contract to a specialist architect.
Campaigners say it's a significant milestone along the way to building a two-screen complex in the high street - which they want to see opened by October 2022.
Burrell, Foley & Fischer, a firm with expertise in cinema design, triumphed over four other firms in the competitive tendering process, to be awarded the Tenterden Town Council contract to carry out a full building feasibility study at 55 High Street.
Tom Evans, chairman of the cinema focus group said that the architects now had the green light to conduct a full digital survey of the Grade II listed 18th century Pebbles building, currently home to White Stuff, which has been selected as the ideal location for a Tenterden cinema.
Ashford Borough Council and Historic England have both broadly given the nod to the plan for the building in its embryonic stages.
Archaeological surveys will also be conducted, while engineering and structural issues are to be examined as part of the contract.
Detailed discussions, including looking at business plans, will then follow with operatives who have expressed an interest in developing the building. Independent cinema Kino, which has screens in Rye and Hawkhurst, and Uckfield Picture House have both given positive reactions to the project.
Mr Evans said: "The idea is that the study will lead to preparations for a memorandum of understanding between interested operatives."
A subterranean two-screen cinema is envisaged at the back of the Pebbles building with a green roof, which would extend in the Millennium Gardens. Designs will be presented by the architects at a town council public exhibition to be held in February.
Estimated to cost in excess of £2m, a total of £500K will be lopped off the cost of developing the cinema as the Pebbles building is owned by Tenterden Town Council, which has already set aside the sum for vital renovation works.
It is hoped that additional cash can be found through community fundraising, business donations or even a specialist mortgage.
Mr Evans believes the cinema is the key to breathing new life into Tenterden town centre. He said: "A cinema would have a dramatic effect on Tenterden's night-time economy as people also tend to go out to eat or drink when they go to watch a film."
He added:"Although Tenterden is in a better shape than many high streets, we are still seeing empty shops.
"The retail sector is changing radically and shops are having a hard time. We need to think about a different offering with entertainment and cultural activities."
He said the cinema could also be used for live streaming of concerts, or West End theatre shows, adding: "Live streaming is very popular as the camera has the best seat in the house for viewing."
A cafebar planned for the cinema would also offering an alternative meeting place in town.
Thanking the town council for its support, Mr Evans said: "These are exciting times for the cinema. We are at the first stages, but we are really moving ahead."