The Pálás cinema has been mired in controversy since the project was first mooted 14 years ago.
In the intervening years, the development has been beset by flooding, funding shortfalls and complex management arrangements. It’s had name changes, State investigations and been almost mothballed a number of times.
Now, in what should mark the end of a saga that could rival the Star Wars series, the building is set to welcome paying punters for the very first time this weekend.
With state-of-the-art technology, three screens, a coffee shop and a bar, the cinema is envisaged as a cultural hub for Galway.
Architecturally, it’s a stunning space. A complex split-level interior leaves you baffled as to how so much can fit so comfortably, into such a relatively small area.
Externally, the design by dePaor Architects features something of a traditional facade on one side of the building, with a raised modern concrete shell dominating other approaches.
Windows by Patrick Scott bathe the interior in an array of shades. To these eyes, it’s a beautiful place. But it’s had a torturous gestation.
The story of Galway’s Picture Palace - now to be known simply as Pálás - is long and winding, with many a twist and turn.
The journey to this point has involved millions in direct State funding, structural issues at the site close to the River Corrib and the cold harsh winds of the building downturn, which left the structure lying empty for over half a decade.
The Solas Picture Palace was first proposed in 2004, when a charity was established to raise funds to construct a dedicated arthouse cinema in Galway.
The planned complex was to include three screens with a total of 276 seats. It all seemed straightforward. Work would commence in 2007 and be completed within two years.
A site for the building - worth €1.8 million - was donated by Galway City Council, with further funding provided by the Irish Film Board.
In addition, the Department of Arts gave €2 million towards the development in 2007, as part of an access fund that was in operation at the time.
The sod was turned on the project, a short distance from the Spanish Arch, by Michael D Higgins in 2009. Soon afterwards, as foundations were being laid, seawater seeped in and affected an adjoining house, which had to be rebuilt at a cost of €500,000.
Two years later, at the height of the recession, the construction company that was building the cinema terminated the contract, citing design inadequacies and delays.
By the time a new construction firm was appointed by the originators of the project, Solas-Galway Picture Palace Teoranta (Solas), funding had dried up. The department refused to release more money and in 2012 told those involved to raise more funds locally.
This led to financial assistance in the form of a €650,000 loan from the Western Development Commission, as well as more money from the Film Board and Galway City Council. By 2014, more than €6 million had been spent on the unfinished building.
Despite all this, the project was at another standstill, when the department was again called upon to make a decision - either let the Picture Palace bite the dust or invest further in the project.
More funding was approved.
In 2015, Galway City Council formally took over the management of the project from Solas, but the entity still maintained control of the site under the terms of a 99-year token or so-called ‘peppercorn’ lease.
As controversy grew, the terms of the lease were changed.
Element Pictures became involved in late 2016 and agreed a 30-year lease with the City Council. In return, the company pledged to spend more than €1 million on the completion and fit out of the cinema, as well as repaying the Western Development Commission loan of €650,000.
It will bear all operating and staffing costs, but is only liable to pay commercial rent to the council after a 25-year period.
Clauses in the lease agreement would see the site and building reverting to the city, in the event of the development not being completed in any guise.
As work on the cinema fit out commenced in 2017, attention still focused on the preceding decade.
The auditors of Solas resigned due to concerns regarding corporate governance in the company. Solas itself went into liquidation in July 201,7 but not before the Charities Regulator launched an inquiry into it, following an examination of books, documents and other records.
Last September, the State spending watchdog said there was no overall oversight arrangement in place for the project at the outset, despite the involvement of a variety of public agencies.
The Comptroller and Auditor General was also critical of the manner in which the business case for the cinema was assessed by the State, with particular reference to projected attendance rates.
And audience figures are still a valid concern, as the switches are flicked on the projectors this weekend.
Despite the favourable lease terms, around 1,500 paying customers will be needed each week for the operation to be viable.
That’s an ask considering Galway already has two multiplex cinemas, with a third a short distance away in Oranmore.
Element has ambitious plans for the Pálás and points to its stewardship of the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin as a template for what it may bring to Galway.
It’s promising "an eclectic mix" of the best new Irish and international films, with classics, foreign language, animated films and special events.
The finished building has three screens, with a total of 321 seats.
It’s a space that’s designed to entertain and play a part in the artistic life of the region. A place to get lost in the magic of the movies.
It’s a cultural focal point in a town that was designated a UNESCO City of Film in 2014.
The opening this weekend comes less than three years before Galway becomes the European Capital of Culture in 2020, and just a few months before the 30th Galway Film Fleadh in July.
The Galway Film Society - a long running institution in the city - at last gets a permanent home. Aspirant writers and directors at the Galway Film Centre hope for more ready access to screens to showcase their work.
Film makers and those who dreamed this project up in the first place finally see it become an operational reality.
All involved will be hoping that the initial vision will be realised in the weeks and months ahead: That the Pálás cinema will entertain, delight and inform audiences.
It ought to. We’ve paid for it.