Church bids to be saviour of threatened Odeon building

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A HISTORIC city cinema could be rescued from demolition by a church which plans to revive it as a picture house, theatre and community venue.

The Odeon in Newington has lain empty since it closed in 2003 and the development company which owns it wants to knock down part of the building to make way for a 231-bed hotel, restaurant and artists' studios.

Now an offer by Elim Pentecostal Church to buy the cinema for 1.8 million has raised hopes the B-listed property in South Clerk Street could have a new future.

Elim, which has 500 churches across the UK, already runs a successful commercial cinema in London's Notting Hill.

Its proposals for the Odeon would involve a two-screen cinema, 200-seat theatre and cafe on the ground floor, with a gym hall upstairs and a main hall to also rented out for conferences.

Details emerged in the report of the planning inquiry into the proposals by owners Duddingston House Properties (DHP) for partial demolition and redevelopment.

The inquiry came down against demolition until all viable alternatives had been fully explored.

Elim made an offer to buy the building for 1.4m as long ago as 2004 but it was rejected, as was its most recent offer of 1.8m. However, the church is still pressing DHP to sell.

Elim already has an agreement with an arts company to develop a programme for the venue.

An Elim spokesman said: "It's now a matter of public record that we have an interest in opening up the building as a vibrant community facility. That interest has been ongoing for some time and continues."

Lothians Labour MSP George Foulkes said: "This is the best solution for the building, which has been blighted for years.

"Duddingston House have these grandiose plans which would involve demolishing the cinema but the inquiry said the cinema should be preserved if at all possible. Now it is possible because Elim have what I believe is a very viable plan."

Tom Pate, of the Save the Odeon Campaign, said he believed Elim would be "great stewards of this wonderful building".

DHP director Bruce Hare said he had never received a "proper, legal offer" for the cinema but said the property would be marketed in September.