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St Albans Odeon can rise again
St Albans Odeon
The former Odeon building in London Road, St Albans

Anyone frustrated by the sight of the fantastic, but derelict, former Odeon building in London Road, St Albans will be pleased to know that a plan is being put forward to turn it into a new cinema for the city.

But if local film fans want this dream to be realised, they must help to raise £1 million towards the cost.

The plans for a new cinema, to replace the Odeon which closed in 1995, have been outlined by James Hannaway, the chief executive officer of The Rex cinema in Berkhamsted.

1927: St Albans' first cinema burned down
1931: The Capitol Cinema opened on the cleared site, seating 1,168 in the stalls and 452 in the balcony
1934: The cinema was enlarged to 1,728 seats. The Capitol was bought by General Cinema Finance and then passed to Odeon
1945: The Odeon renamed the cinema
1973: The new three-screen complex opened in January with two smaller screens of 115 and 129 seats tucked under the balcony
1988: A fourth screen was added
1995: All screens closed on 20 August
1995-2009: Various proposals put forward for a new cinema but the owners want to use the site for flats
2009: James Hannaway announced that he had agreed to buy the building, subject to raising the funds

At a meeting at the Rex on the 29 November 2009, Hannaway revealed that a consortium, led by him, had agreed to buy the building, but the purchase cost of £1 million must be raised by mid-January 2010, ahead of a completion date of 15 February.

Then, after that, a further £2 million will be needed to turn the site into a 500-seat, single screen theatre within two-and-a-half years, along the lines of The Rex.

The intention will be to work along the same lines as The Rex using only one screen to show the best films on release from all over the world.

Some 500 people who attended the meeting were then told of the five ways that individuals can contribute to the project - through shares, advance membership, sponsored seats, donations or small loans.

Up to 1,000 people would be able to join the Advanced Booking List at a cost of £285 while 500 people could sponsor a chair for £1,000.

People could also agree to make an individual donation of any amount or agree to loan a sum greater than £1,000.

Finally, you can invest more than £2,500 in the new cinema company.

The St Albans Civic Society, who campaign to preserve the heritage of the city, have said that they were "overjoyed" that Hannaway was interested in buying the building.

Spokesperson Marion Hammond said: "We have campaigned for years to make sure that it wasn't demolished and turned into flats and we thought we had reached the end of the line when the council gave permission for the owner to turn it into flats.

"It was the one good sign of the credit crunch that the building went up for sale.

"There was a month for tenders to go in" she added, "and we knew that James had done something, but then we heard nothing, there was a total news blackout - it was tantalising wondering what was going on!

St Albans Odeon
Plans for a new cinema were unveiled at a public meeting

"[When we found out what had happened] we were so pleased as we had campaigned for so long and had got a lot of support.

"The Civic Society is also interested in saving the most appropriate buildings from the past and here we have a landmark Art Deco building on a major route in what is a run down area, so it's great for the city as well.

"Also, St Albans doesn't have a cinema but could have one within two years!"

And because talk of the old Odeon provokes "a sense of pleasure, affection and reminiscence" amongst local people, what the Society now hope is that the restoration to a new cinema can really be part of the community.

"At the moment James is looking for the big money" explained Marion, "but we're hoping very much that in the future it can be a grass roots thing.

"For example, we could have a table in the Town Hall where people could give a fiver, otherwise people may feel it's not for the likes of us."

She said that she had already been approached by people who wanted to contribute smaller amounts of money or hold fundraising events.

"The Civic Society wants to be instrumental in doing this kind of thing" she said, "but maybe this could be part of a gentler process in the long term, after the building has been purchased and when we get to the restoration process.

"We hope that James will say we can do it this way because he will get a steady flow of unexpected money."

St Albans MP Anne Main was also at the meeting and is backing the project.

Speaking afterwards she said: "It was great that so many people were willing to turn out on such a horrible Sunday to discuss the future of the Odeon.

"I hope the project will be a huge success as there was a lot of goodwill in the room.

"It was a capacity crowd, with people sitting in the aisles and even a number having to stand out in the foyer, all brought there by a passion to see life breathed back into the Odeon.

"Given the passion for the project, I am sure many will be willing to help" she added.


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