This is when Preston's cinema and leisure venue Animate will open its doors
and live on Freeview channel 276
Building work on the development had provisionally been due for completion sometime in 2024 and remains so - but is now expected to be finished towards the end of that year. There will then be a period for each of the tenants to fit out their premises.
The Post understands that there is desire for the outlets within the scheme - known as “Animate” - all to begin trading at the same time in order to maximise the impact of the scheme.
Just three of the nine units that will make up the development are left to be filled and there are active discussions ongoing with interested parties - including to find an overarching operator for a street food hub, which will offer a chance for local independent traders to gain a foothold in the city-owned venture.
The tenants so far confirmed for four out of the five eateries that will feature on the plot - where the city’s old indoor market and multi-storey car park once stood - are all nationally-recognised brands: Las Iguanas, Zizzi, Cosmo and Loungers.
The Post, which received a tour of the development this week, has been told that the intention is for individual traders to be able to secure space in the street food hub, without having to commit to lengthy leases - thereby allowing them to test the market for their offering.
Their presence will also give Animate - which, with its eight-screen cinema and Hollywood Bowl, it is hoped will have a wide geographical appeal - a distinctly Preston flavour.
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said that he was confident that all of the units would be occupied by the time of opening - and that he was particularly excited about the potential for the street food facility.
“If we are lucky, we can get 10 or more local business people [into that unit], which will be connected very much to the feel you get in the market and surrounding areas about trying to support the local, family-owned, independent business community within Preston,” Cllr Brown explained.
The authority is understood to be seeking an umbrella operator to support artisan, entrepreneurial, foodie businesses - ideally local - but is willing to consider all enquiries.
The layout of the development will link Animate’s restaurants closely with the indoor market, via an outdoor seating area and terrace. That juxtaposition could even lead to the market trading into the evening.
Cllr Brown added that the yet-to-be-leased “competitive social” unit - which will offer a group activity like an escape room - would also lend itself to operation by an independent local business.
Speaking more broadly about the £45m council-funded development - £3.4m of which will be covered by using a tranche of Preston's allocation from the government's Towns Fund, along with £3.25m from the City Deal - the Labour leader said that it was vital for the city to back projects that would make it more “resilient” in the face of shifting trends.
“It’s about trying to regenerate the city centre around artistic, cultural and creative expression - I think that’s what people want in this day and age.
“People are going to shop more online and [while] we do want to support the retail sector, the reality is that consumer habits are changing and people often want an experience when they come into the city centre - whether that's eating, or going for a drink or watching a show.
“It will also create 340 jobs which wouldn't be there if we hadn’t [pursued this development] - 200 during construction and 140 once it is up and running. But then you also have the onward effect of the activity that it produces in the area.
“The fact that the city is going to own the asset is very positive because it builds that resilience.”
According to a recent survey by consultancy firm CACI, Preston is in the top five “small city centres” in the UK. It was found to have one of the most dominant leisure markets compared to other city centres, with a higher spend potential.
A brochure promoting the remaining units in Animate notes that in spite of having 700,000 people living within a 20-minute drive, Preston is currently “massively under-provided for” when it comes to restaurants.