WORK is under way on a seven-figure project to convert a 160-year-old grade II-listed building into an upmarket nightspot, which will create up to 100 jobs.
Mistell Limited, which owns The Keys in Yarm and Middlesbrough, is converting the former Mechanics Institute, in Skinnergate, into its latest branch.
Built in 1854, the building has been largely derelict since Retro nightclub closed in 2012.
Members of the Mechanics Institute Snooker Club found recently moved to new premises in Bondgate.
The Keys project has been dogged by planning issues, including a wrangle over disabled access, but these have been overcome.
Builders began stripping away the old fixtures and fittings in November, with bosses hopeful the venue will be ready to welcome its first revellers in September.
As well as a bar and restaurant, the venue will include a first-floor nightclub.
Vicky Powell, who runs Mistell with her father Alastair and brother Michael, said the Darlington branch would be similar to The Keys in Yarm.
She is pleased that the company is now able to move on from the "frustration" of the previous planning issues.
Miss Powell said: “I do not come out in Darlington a lot myself, but from the people I speak to, they seem to think there’s not really anything for the more mature crowd.
“In Yarm, we have a real mix of ages and we are hoping for it to be the same here.”
The refurbishment will be sympathetic to the building’s 160-year history and will see its ornate but tired restored to somewhere near its former splendour.
Paul Rowntree, who has worked as head chef in The Keys in Yarm, is one of those overseeing the project in Skinnergate.
He said: “Obviously, the building is just a shell at the moment, but it is progressing at quite a speed.
“Hopefully, in the next couple of months, we will start to see more progress, it is exciting.”
Mr Rowntree said the venue would eventually support between 80 and 100 jobs.
He added: “We would look to local people, people that know the area. It’s going to be important that we support the community with jobs and we are already getting inquiries on our Facebook page.
“It is a really exciting development for Darlington and it is great that people are keen to get on board.”
Mr Rowntree plans to hold a cookery school in the venue’s kitchens once it its up and running.