One couldn't help being reminded of a Hollywood action movie set as we prowled carefully around the building site which is currently concealed inside the upper storeys of the Buttermarket Centre. At any moment I felt we might be confronted by Bruce Willis or his nemesis Alan Rickman from Die Hard: one toting a bazooka and the other an Uzi machine pistol in the shadows of one of the dim rooms or uneven passages which are slowly being transformed into the Empire Cinema & Bowling complex.
Andrew Mackenzie of the builders Maeve and his assistant Max conducted a small group of us around the labyrinthine site during the course of a dark afternoon in late November.
Entering the bowels of the delivery bay we were elevated to the third floor where we saw the plans for the conversion and the way in which the individual cinemas were being conjured from the enormous space. It was revealing to see the extent to which the old building had been eviscerated - so impossible to gauge where Allders had met TJ Hughes and Laura Ashley in the past.
The preparation of partition walls and portals was very nearly complete, the interiors with steel structures and boarded podiums for seating were being fitted. We heard that the opening date for the end of January 2017 was feasible, though Empire would have preferred to open in the run-up to Christmas.
It was comforting that our guide, Andrew from Zimbabwe, knew very well his domain as it would have been easy to lose ourselves. Amongst the rough concrete and sleek plasterboard which exposed itself, we made our way along barely finished passages into enormous auditoria and quite small and intimate spaces, soon to become film theatres.
The donning of hardhats and high-vis vests was an exciting part of a fascinating visit and the discussion afterwards was divided between the exploration of the daunting site and the prospect of twelve new screens next year.