The Empire, Coventry, has announced a bold and ambitious plan moving its club and live music operations to Coventry City Centre. The venue, currently based in Far Gosford Street, will re-locate to Hertford Street on the site of a former cinema and corn exchange potentially doubling its audience capacity to 1,800.

Extensive work is underway on the new site, which had a long history in entertainment and coincidentally was known as the ABC Empire’between 1933 and 1969. It originally opened in 1856 and hosted a reading by Charles Dickens in 1857 before becoming a picture house in 1901. Its ornate frontage was sadly destroyed in the 1940 Coventry blitz. After closing initially in 1971 it reopened as a single-screen cinema in 1973 and was converted into a sports retail premises in 1988.

The scope of the new venue and the renovation currently being planned allows for event spaces from 300 to 1,400 initially and the ability to host everything from fully seated awards format shows to large-scale standing concerts.

Phil Rooney, Empire manager, explained the ambition behind the move: “Our lease on the Gosford Street building was coming to an end but we were desperate to keep live music in Coventry and build on all the hard work we’ve put in since 2015. I had some memories of the cinema in Hertford Street and when my son told me that the sports shop had closed I immediately began talking to Coventry City Council about the potential for the site.

“With the support of the council and City of Culture 2021, we have built a significant investment that will bring jobs to the city and create a first-class entertainment venue to rival anything in the UK.”

The development is particularly timely with Coventry being UK City of Culture 2021.

Martin Sutherland, chief executive of Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “We’re delighted to see The Empire move to new, bigger, premises in advance of a very busy 2021 when we seek to throw a spotlight on Coventry’s live music scene.

“Our investment in organisation and audience development activities will help this iconic Coventry venue reach increased audiences from across the city and help it make the most of Coventry’s year in the spotlight.”

Rooney added: “We have always believed Coventry deserves a music venue to rival other big cities, that is why Empire was born. Yes, we are in strange and unprecedented times right now, but I believe this fantastic new bigger space will, in the future, help attract more great bands to our city, and will allow us to open the diary to other types of entertainment and community events.”

Subject to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the venue will officially open in August 2020 with all booked shows moving to the new site in Hertford Street.