Proud Preston has got its mojo back . . . and that’s official.
After years of slumber following the celebrated collapse of the Tithebarn project in 2011, the city is on the up again, with one business leader declaring: “The sleeping giant is awakening.”
An American-style drive-in cinema is coming to Preston next month as the latest attraction in a huge entertainment programme designed to bring in thousands more visitors in 2017.
“These are exciting times for Preston,” said city council deputy leader Coun John Swindells. “It’s great. It’s all good news at the moment.”
New hotels, restaurants, cinemas and live entertainment are all returning after years of slumber following the collapse of the Tithebarn project.
Preston is alive and kicking again. And in the words of the city’s BID boss Mark Whittle: “The sleeping giant is awakening.”
So much is happening in 2017 that businesses are now looking at the former mill town as the go-to place now Manchester and Liverpool are bursting at the seams.
“These are very exciting times for Preston,” said Simon, whose capture of the ailing Guild Hall complex in 2014 kick-started the revolution.
“It’s all part of us walking and talking like a city. It’s OK getting city status, but you’ve got to behave like one too.”
The latest addition to Preston’s entertainment portfolio is set to be an American-style drive-in cinema next month.
It opens with a sell-out showing of “Grease” on the car park of the Deepdale Retail Park on Friday March 10.
It might only be a three-day visit initially, but it is hoped it will pull in hundreds of visitors and make the place the one that people want.
The list of new attractions is growing by the month as Preston puts on a show aimed at convincing the rest of the North West it has ambitions to be more than the region’s third city.
From a Turner Prize-winning exhibition by Martin Creed at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery to the return of televised snooker, a restored Victorian square to a 24-hour bowling alley, the offer is set to put Preston back on the map after a worryingly long period flying under the radar.
Coun John Swindells, deputy leader of Preston City Council, remarked: “Everything now seems to be coming at once - and it’s great.”
Since 2011, when the Tithebarn project was finally pronounced dead after a decade of uncertainty, Preston has pulled itself up by its boot laces.
But the city has needed a huge amount of help from private investors like Simon Rigby, who saved the Guild Hall from closure, and also from Lancashire County Council, which bought the iconic bus station and car park.
Now, at the start of 2017, Preston is getting up to three new hotels, a state-of-the-art youth zone, a revamped bus station, a new indoor market hall, a refurbished outdoor market, an ambitious cinema and entertainment complex and an all-singing all-dancing Guild Hall with its range of restaurants and a new bowling alley.
Fives nightspot is being brought out of mothballs and so too, eventually, will be the foyer of the former Odeon Cinema in Church Street.
Fishergate has got a new look, the University of Central Lancashire is getting £200m of investment in an ambitious masterplan, the Deepdale Retail Park has seen expansion and New Hall Lane is getting a traffic facelift.
And all of that while public money has never been so tight.
“It is being driven by the private sector because the public sector is reducing all the time,” admitted Coun Swindells.
“New investors seem to have confidence in Preston again.”