FOUR national cinema chains are in a bidding war to run a new 200-seat cinema in Abingdon Guildhall.

The companies vying for the contract in a top-secret process have all submitted formal bids to the hall’s owners Abingdon Town Council.

The cinema is the anchor in a £3.5m redevelopment of the hall, which would also create a new cafe-bar and see the building refurbished.

It is hoped the scheme could bring in 100,000 visitors and £700,000 a year, helping to cover the £150,000 annual cost of running the hall.

Abingdon Town Council has £1m in the bank to invest in the premises, and is looking for a cinema operator to finance the rest of the scheme.

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Under the current plans, the Guildhall will close from August, and construction work is set to begin in early 2016 for a 2017 opening.

Town councillor Iain Littlejohn, who is Guildhall committee chairman, said he was “very excited” about the bids, adding: “The four vendors are all experienced cinema operators of varying shapes and sizes, but all of them very credible.”

The Guildhall committee asked the four firms in November to submit bids covering three areas: how much money they were prepared to invest in the scheme, what sort of cinema they would like to create, and how much rent they would expect to pay the council.

Mr Littlejohn said the cinema proposals had differed in layout, business model, what sort of cafe they would have and what sort of films they would show.

But he added: “We were very clear that we were looking for a broad mix of films appealing to the broad population of Abingdon, not a specialised art house cinema.”

The Guildhall would not just show films, it would also host plays and performance art on its stage, similar to Didcot’s Cornerstone arts centre, Mr Littlejohn said.

The cinema operator would not own any part of the Guildhall but would take a profit.

The fact all four had come forward with full formal bids, he said, “suggests to me that Abingdon is a very sensible place for a cinema, and I find it very encouraging”.

Mr Littlejohn added: “I can’t give any details of the bids but I can say I’m very excited about the next stage of the process.”

This would see the committee choose one or two of the companies to meet with in person to give more details presentations of their proposals.

The next time the public will be consulted on the scheme will be when the final planning application for the rebuild is submitted to Vale of White Horse District Council.

Guildhall committee deputy chairwoman Alison Rooke said that she was looking forward to analysing the bids in more detail.