AN INDEPENDENT cinema chain has finally completed its purchase of York's former Odeon picturehouse - clearing the way for a major refurbishment later this year.

The art deco cinema in Blossom Street has lain empty and boarded up since closing its doors to customers in August 2006.

It was shut down by Odeon despite a petition signed by 13,000 readers of The Press, calling for it to be refurbished and stay open.

There seemed very little prospect of it ever reopening as a cinema until independent cinema chain Reel Cinema (UK) Ltd revealed last summer that it was planning to buy the complex and restore it to its former glory.

The company said initially that it hoped to complete the purchase and reopen the cinema to the public during last year's summer holidays, prior to the start of refurbishment work.

But the doors remained closed and it later emerged that the building was in too poor a condition to be able to reopen until after the revamp. Managing director Kailash Suri revealed that vandals had broken in and damaged the main screen and foyer area.

Mr Suri said today that the purchase had been completed and the company would now begin talks with organisations such as City of York Council and English Heritage about how the building was to be refurbished.

He declined to disclose how much Reel paid for the property, although The Press reported in 2006 that the owners were seeking offers in excess of £650,000.

Mr Suri said that problems such as damp meant there was definitely no chance of the cinema reopening until the work was done, but it was possible this could happen some time during 2008.

Reel Cinema's website states: "Reel York opening soon after complete refurbishment," and invites people to apply online for jobs there. But Mr Suri said that details of applicants would simply be logged so that they could be contacted when the cinema was ready to employ staff again.

He has said in the past that the plans might involve dividing up the former three screen cinema into a five screens complex - with the large auditorium being split into two and the existing two screens being turned into three.

He said Reel wanted not to just provide a cinema but a full "cinema-going experience," adding: "We want to make it a magical place."

City of York Council leader Steve Galloway, said: "I am delighted that it's going to reopen. It will add another leisure option for people in the city centre, and I hope that York residents will fully support it and sustain it into the future."