Man planning George Best hotel buys listed Belfast landmark for £6m
The developer hoping to open a George Best-themed hotel in Belfast has bought a listed building in the city centre for just over £6m - but won't confirm if it will be the site for the project.
Liverpool developer Lawrence Kenwright's Signature Living Group has purchased the Scottish Mutual Building, and plans to invest a further £15m turning it into a hotel.
It was bought from the Ballymena-based Hill family, owners of the Galgorm Resort & Spa.
They had hoped to open it as an 80-bedroom hotel by this autumn, but faced more than two years of delays and setbacks.
Mr Kenwright recently bought the former Crumlin Road courthouse, which he plans to convert into one of five hotels in the city.
He said the Scottish Mutual Building will be the "latest in a series of landmark buildings to be carefully restored and developed into luxurious accommodation by Signature Living, such as 30 James Street, the former headquarters of White Star Line in Liverpool, and the Exchange Hotel in Cardiff, home to the former coal exchange during the 1800s.
"The building is currently in a state of disrepair and we will be focusing on sympathetically restoring this stunning, Scottish baronial style landmark building back to its former glory and architectural beauty, as well as aligning it with Signature Living's exciting style and guest experience," he added.
"We will ensure the building plays its part in telling the story of Belfast at its industrial peak."
Tullymore House Limited, which had owned the property, said:
“We are pleased to confirm the sale of the Scottish Mutual Building to Signature Living Group following an approach and an exceptional purchase offer.
“We are also pleased that significant investment in this landmark city centre building will continue and that its full potential as a unique and attractive hotel will be realised soon.”
He would not confirm whether the new project will be the hotel to be themed after the Manchester United and Northern Ireland footballing legend.
Speaking about plans for his George Best hotel in February, Mr Kenwright said it would follow the template of his Shankly Hotel in Liverpool, which is themed on Liverpool FC's legendary Scottish manager.
"We are using the knowledge that we have gleaned from the Shankly Hotel. Every room has a story of an individual that knew him," he said.
"It's about unearthing those stories... not so much the main life stories that everyone knows. This is about the stories you don't know about."
The project has the backing of Best's family.
The Scottish Mutual Building was bought by the Hill family in 2013 after being put on the market for £2m by the Republic's 'bad bank' Nama.
But plans for their hotel were affected by problems.
In 2014 it was one of the first listed building projects to be hit by a grant freeze, leaving a shortfall in funding.
Work was then delayed by several months at the end of last year due to one remaining tenant in the building.