WORK has begun on plans to turn a delapidated landmark into a bustling riverside night-spot.

The 19th Century Brown's Boathouse, on the banks of the River Wear next to Elvet Bridge, in Durham City, is to become a cafZ bar.

Ultimate Leisure is spending more than £3m on the project and hopes to have the 600-capacity nightspot ready in time for Christmas.

The building, a distinctive feature of the city with long links to the city's rowing tradition, looked to be doomed a few years ago.

The company planned to demolish it and replace it with a large, glass-fronted pub, a plan that attracted significant opposition from residents and the City of Durham Trust.

Despite a 4,000-name petition against the plan, the firm won its appeal against the refusal of planning permission.

But it had to re-think its plans when it was discovered that the city's main water supply runs between the boathouse and the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre.

Demolition of the boathouse could have caused a mains failure and avoiding this would have been too costly.

Instead, Ultimate Leisure has come up with proposals that will retain the building and create a smaller facility than originally planned.

The managing director of the company, Bob Senior, said the development would be sympathetic and in keeping with the historic area.

"The overall appearance of the building will remain much the same, albeit the building needs significant work because it has fallen into disrepair," he said.

"The boat hire business on the ground floor will remain and we will be carrying out some general landscaping to the surrounding area.

"Our bar and restaurant will have an entrance on the ground floor and occupy some of that floor and the floor above.

"Durham is a fabulous city and we are delighted to be opening there.

"It is always difficult to predict the time scale of such a project but we hope to be welcoming our first customers before Christmas."

Ultimate Leisure, which is based in Newcastle, has 26 bars, including 13 in Newcastle and two in Sunderland.

Other attractions planned for the city centre include the Walkabout Australian theme pub, which will be in the former Robins Cinema, in North Road.