Hotels group buys Windsor House to meet predicted boom in tourists
The expansion of the Waterfront Hall and major events coming to the city were the reasons behind Hastings Hotels' purchase of Windsor House.
The hotel group purchased the 23-storey property on Bedford Street, one of the tallest buildings in Ireland, for £6.5m and will create 150 jobs.
The Waterfront expansion is part of the city's aim to attract more business tourists through conferences and major events.
The £29.5m revamp will see capacity double and it should reopen in the summer of 2016.
The expansion is part of a drive to make Belfast more of a business destination, with business tourists spending three times more than a leisure tourist.
Built in 1974, Windsor House is a dominant feature of Belfast's skyline. It was badly damaged in an IRA bomb in 1992 and was last sold in 2006 for £30m.
Best known as the base of the Parades Commission, it featured in numerous TV bulletins as interested parties filed in and out.
Hastings Group marketing director Julie Hastings said: "Tourism in Northern Ireland continues to thrive and it's ideal timing to extend our portfolio of hotels with more high-profile events coming to the city as well as an increase in business tourism, which will be helped by the opening of the £29.5m expansion of the Belfast Waterfront next year." It is the first time Hastings has purchased a property since 1993, when it bought the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street and the Everglades in Londonderry.
The group owns six hotels in Northern Ireland, including the Culloden and the Slieve Donard, as well as a 50% share in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin.
In a statement, its directors said: "Its prime city centre location is ideally situated to meet the urgent demand that the hotel sector requires to satisfy the growing business activity and the increase in tourism prospects.
"Planning permission for a hotel of major city international quality will be submitted within a few weeks. Award-winning Belfast Architects WDR & RT Taggarts have been engaged to develop the designs."
Visit Belfast chief executive Gerry Lennon said: "Visit Belfast recognises that hotel capacity is a key enabler in delivering success and achieving the ambitious tourism targets set by both local and central governments.
"This investment by the Hastings Hotel Group demonstrates the level of confidence in Belfast's tourism future, delivering jobs and prosperity to the local economy."
Janice Gault, chief executive of Northern Irish Hotels Federation, predicts Belfast will see an extra 500 hotel rooms by 2016-17 to meet demand. This includes hotels at City Quays, St Andrew's Square and The Bedford at the old Scottish Mutual building.