£16m student accommodation plan for city's landmark building gets green light
Planning permission has been granted for 400-room student accommodation at a former Belfast Metropolitan College building in Belfast city centre.
Newry construction firm O'Hare & McGovern will be behind the £16m redevelopment, after winning the tender.
The landmark building at College Square East has also been renamed as John Bell House, in honour of the Belfast scientist.
It's jointly owned by Welsh firm Watkin Jones & Sons and Holywood-based Lacuna Developments.
The project - the first major private sector student accommodation venture in Northern Ireland - is set to be completed by September 2016.
It will include 413 rooms, made up of 291 bedrooms and 121 studios. It will also feature a management suite and both indoor and outdoor communal areas.
The five-storey property was sold for an undisclosed sum last year. Speculation had been rife that the building would be turned into a hotel.
Anthony Best of Lacuna Developments said the green light for the accommodation "will no doubt provide a real boost to the local economy, attracting hundreds of students into the city centre". He added: "We are delighted to be working with local contractors to bring such a landmark building back to life.
"This is the first major private student accommodation scheme of its kind in Northern Ireland and we're pleased to have gained the support of Belfast City Council and the planners so quickly."
O'Hare & McGovern's managing director Eamon O'Hare said he was proud to be "associated with such a prestigious scheme".
"This is a magnificent landmark building which is going to be completely revitalised to provide upmarket accommodation. It will be great for Belfast."
John Bell House was constructed between 1902 and 1906, with the site occupied by the college until it relocated to the Titanic Quarter four years ago. It's the latest big listed building in Belfast which is set to undergo a revamp.
Plans are under way to turn the six-storey Scottish Mutual building behind Belfast City Hall into a 40-bedroom hotel.
But it's now one of the first listed building projects to be hit by a government grant freeze - leaving a shortfall in the project's funding.
Meanwhile, commercial property firm Lambert Smith Hampton has been named as Northern Ireland's most active agent in 2014 after walking away with an award for its work from EstatesGazette.com.