LEISURE bosses yesterday set a date for the re-launch of a popular arts venue that has been closed for building repairs.

The Empire Theatre, in Consett, was due to open at the beginning of January, following a £700,000 re-fit. But the project fell behind schedule after severe rising damp was discovered in the walls.

Further delays were caused when Derwentside Leisure Services, which operates the venue, had to wait for a High Court decision on an order to close a public footpath while a disabled access was installed.

The centre will re-open on March 20, with a show by Eagles tribute band Talon.

Councillor Alex Watson, the leader of Derwentside District Council, welcomed the announcement.

He said: "It is going to be worth waiting for. The delays were unfortunate, but we are over that.

"Everything seems to be going according to plan now, we do not expect any further delays."

The overhaul aims to transform the venue from a tired-looking, run-down picture house into a stylish theatre and cinema.

The auditorium has been fitted with two wheelchair spaces, and a dressing room designed for disabled people has been built.

Workers will install more than 500 seats over the next fortnight. The revamp also includes a better sound system and a 50-piece lighting set.

The under-stage dressing rooms have been extended and toilets and showers fitted.

There will be a hospitality room with reserved seating attached for corporate entertainment and show sponsors.

During the day, it will be made available to businesses as a meeting room.

In early February, film projectors that have been under wraps for nearly eight months will be reinstalled and a downstairs bar and lounge fitted out.

Staff hope that, along with the new portico, this expanded area should solve queuing problems.

An open day will take place at the venue on Saturday, March 22, from 10am to 9pm, which includes free admission to a children's film in the cinema at 2pm, or a ticket to an adult's movie at 7.30pm.