CAITHNESS cinema fans could be enjoying the latest blockbuster releases along with the rest of the UK as early as the beginning of August.
Ambitious businessman Rob Arthur intends to secure a deal to purchase the All Star Factory cinema complex in Thurso by the end of next week.
He has set an opening date for the Thurso Cinema Limited by Friday, August 3, to coincide with the UK premiere of the new Disney movie, Brave, which would be the first film shown at the Ormlie Road premises since they closed in 2009.
Around 200 people packed into the Pentland Hotel in Thurso on Friday night to hear more about the proposal.
Mr Arthur said the cinema can reopen with 35mm projection now, but said it would need to adapt to digitisation in the future. He is also discussing plans with developers to look at increasing the number of screens from two to five by redeveloping the defunct bowling alley.
The meeting, hosted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, offered the public the first opportunity to hear about Mr Arthur’s plans.
He said prices at the cinema previously had been too high but revealed if his venture goes ahead, affordability will be an important aspect of the business.
"I want to create a cinema which meets the needs of the community," he said.
"The cinema has to be commercially viable and the audience has to attend the cinema on a regular basis if it is to be a success.
"Cinemas should be affordable to everyone and it should not be as expensive as it was before at the All Star Factory. Instead of travelling over 100 miles to Inverness to watch movies, we want to encourage people to stay in Thurso instead to watch movies they want to see."
Mr Arthur, who has opened 30 cinemas across the UK, Ireland, Romania and Taiwan, said that the current building is compatible for digitisation and should be able to show the latest releases as well as screen live cultural and sporting events.
Should the proposal go ahead, the cinema will create the equivalent of six to eight full-time jobs and will be partly funded through HIE.
"The previous cinema failed, but it is time to draw a blind over the past and look to the future," he said.
"Cinemas should be about an experience for customers to engage in film entertainment and cultural events by relaxing and enjoying time together. The cinema should be at the heart of the community with a team that has the skills and the drive to deliver this.
"I want to take the learnings from here and show other communities in Scotland that Thurso has done this and that they can have a chance as well."
The All Star Factory opened in October 2000 in a £1.5 million development which included two 152 and 88-seater cinemas, a six-lane bowling alley and bar, restaurant, a games hall and offices.
The premises closed at the end of September 2009, leaving Inverness as the closest mainland cinema, 110 miles away.
The building is currently owned by Gunn Developments Ltd, which is willing to assist with the redevelopment.
HIE area manager Roy Kirk said when the cinema closed it was a great loss.
The agency has been looking to find someone who sees the cinema as a business opportunity but in a way that reaches the community.
"We believe that we can get a cinema in Thurso up and running," he said.
"We are very supportive of Mr Arthur’s proposal and are confident it is a project that will come to pass quickly." Denise Imrie, of Thurso, believes it will be a development which will have positive benefits for the town.
She said: "I think it is inspirational and very exciting for the whole community – the potential the development has is huge." Darren Manson, who is head of the group Cinema for Thurso, is hopeful the development will go ahead.
He said: "It’s the way I’ve wanted cinema to see go for a long time and it would be brilliant to see it happen.
"If all goes well we will finally have a cinema that truly meets the needs of the community and reaches out to a larger and more inclusive audience."