FILM fans must help raise £1 million if their dream of a cinema in St Albans city centre is to become a reality.

A consortium led by James Hannaway, the chief executive officer of The Rex cinema in Berkhamsted, today revealed they had agreed to buy the former Odeon in London Road earlier this month.

But he told supporters they must contribute towards the £1 million cost, which must be raised by mid-January ahead of a purchase completion date of February 15.

Mr Hannaway said: “We have done this on a wing and a prayer. Now we have to raise some money. We as a group at this stage haven't got any money. You have seen what we have done here [at The Rex] but it's something you have to contribute to. You are the starting line and probably the front line.”

More than 500 people filled seats, stood in the aisles and gathered in the foyer of The Rex to hear outline plans for a new cinema to replace the Odeon, which closed 15 years ago.

They heard aspirations to open a 500-seat, single screen theatre within two-and-a-half years, in the image of The Rex and its Art Deco interior.

And following the £1 million purchase price, a further £2 million will be needed to redevelop the site.

Mr Hannaway said: “I'm very hopeful. We need to raise £1 million by Christmas. We're going to keep going until we cannot go any further and that's all we can do.

“This [The Rex] is what can happen in St Albans. That's why I brought you here.

“It's definitely going to look like this, only more of it. We will build what we have here without the mistakes.”

Forms handed out to those in attendance listed a series of ways to contribute financially to the project.

Up to 1,000 people could join the Advanced Booking List for £285 and 500 people could sponsor a chair for £1,000. Others could make an individual donation, agree to loan a sum greater than £1,000 or invest more than £2,500 in the newly formed cinema company.

No money changed hands today, however, as the exercise was to see how much money could be raised after this initial meeting.

Mr Hannaway was joined on stage by Giles Howard, Graeme Eastham and David Williams, who all answered questions about different aspects of the ambitious project.

Mr Howard, a St Albans resident and self-confessed “cinema lover”, said he was “disappointed” with the multiplexes in Hatfield and Watford when he first moved to the city and was “delighted” when he discovered The Rex.

He revealed he had been working with some investors who have shown “significant levels of interest”.

“It's how a cinema should be,” he said. “When I saw the empty [Odeon] premises it was an entrepreneur's dream.”

Graeme Eastham, from Townstone house building company, confirmed that the loss of a car park sold to supermarket giant Tesco would be something to consider when a planning application was submitted to St Albans District Council for permission to redevelop the site. He also confirmed that at this stage, no residential developments were part of the project.

He said: “The owner of the Odeon did buy the Odeon with the land that was a car park across the road and sold the car park to Tesco. They do own that land and it's part of their planning application that's been refused so far.

“Car parking will certainly be an issue and one we will have to address.”

David Williams, a friend of Mr Hannaway and one of the first people to sponsor a seat at The Rex, said he was “staggered” by the level of attendance at the meeting.

He said: “It's fantastic and the response already in terms of questions and comments of support for St Albans are superb.

“I think with the support demonstrated here, it will happen.

“To purchase the site by mid-January we need £1million. All that does is buy us the site and the building. To go any further than that we need the rest and our estimate is a further £2million but that can be raised and spent as we develop the site itself. The acquisition of the site isn't dependant on that.”

Among those who attended the meeting were Peter and Linda Holloway, from Sandpit Lane, St Albans.

Peter said: "We thought it was a brave project and it deserves to succeed. We would like the opportunity to walk to a local cinema which we cannot get at the Galleria or in Garston.

"St Albans hasn't had a cinema for a long time."