AN HISTORIC town centre building is being totally transformed into new apartments. Local Democracy Reporter JOSEPH TIMAN gains exclusive access to the construction site.

A FORMER ballroom, which became a famous club and later a live music venue, is undergoing a total transformation as work to convert the historic town centre building into flats gets underway.

The Empress Ballroom, which later became a club owned by World Snooker champion John Spencer, will accommodate 10 apartments when work on the upper floors is complete.

The early 20th century building closed in 2002 when it failed to drag in the punters after its name changed to Bar Retro – and it has been empty ever since.

Now plans to bring the building back into use have been given the green light by Bolton Council.

The project is being directed by Shehzad Khan whose company Pod Property Group has recently completed its first development in the town centre.

The Warrington-based developer was behind the conversion of a former youth centre in Newport Street into 10 apartments which was completed in September and is now fully occupied.

But Mr Khan, whose children attend Bolton School, admitted he simply stumbled across the opportunity to first invest in the town which he now loves.

He said: “The honest reason for the first project we did is that my children go to school in Bolton. I thought it’s an opportunity to go to the youth centre building on my way in the morning. And the interest was quite good so we decided to look for something else in town.

“With the plans for Bolton and what the council is planning to spend on here we thought let’s give another project a go."

Born in Manchester, Mr Khan, who now lives in Knutsford, said that since investing in Bolton he has started making the 45-minute journey to the town for fun.

He said: “It’s somewhere a little bit different. I quite like The Vaults. I come to Bolton especially on the weekends. I come to the cinema here because I quite like the Market Place.

“I’d rather spend my money in Bolton where we’ve got things going on as well."

The ground floor of the former ballroom in Mealhouse Lane, which was known as the Crown and Cushion in the nineties, will continue to be used by Yorkshire Bank, a clothing store and a barber shop with space still available for one more retailer.

A mixture of one and two-bedroom apartments will be built on the first and second floors of the property with a new staircase and main entrance to be located at the retail unit which is currently vacant.

Once construction is complete in six months' time, potential tenants will be vetted by an agency.

Pod Property Group will manage the property adding to its portfolio of 800 tenants across 200 buildings in the UK.

Mr Khan said: “We have an outside agency we work with. They will advertise our property online and make sure we get a good calibre of tenants.

“We generally are very competitive on pricing. Generally, there’ll be one viewing and if the area and the size is right, our flats fly out."

Rent at the retail units, which are located next to Crompton Place shopping centre, have been offered to businesses at half the market rate, Mr Khan claims.

This comes as the local authority looks to transform the town centre with more of a focus on residential developments, leaving less space for retail.

But the businessman is supportive of Bolton Council's £1.5bn regeneration masterplan and recognises the need to build more homes in the town centre which he believes will benefit the remaining retailers.

He said: “I think it’s going to help. The more residents we have the more footfall we have on the high streets. I think it’s people you need in the town centre."