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Setback for Belfast hotel as work stalls over exit of final tenant

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By John Mulgrew

Published 26/09/2016

The Linenhall Hotel will be based at the Scottish Mutual building
The Linenhall Hotel will be based at the Scottish Mutual building

Work on a new £13m boutique hotel for Belfast has been delayed by months and can't continue until the building's last remaining tenant moves out, it can be revealed.

The new 80-bedroom hotel at the Scottish Mutual building on Bedford Street was due to open its doors this autumn.

And while work began on stripping out the interior in September last year, it has stalled in the last few months

It's understood Nationwide was originally due to move out of the building this summer.

But the building society is still based at the ground floor, and is not due to move out until early in December.

A spokesperson for Nationwide said: "Our priority has been to continue providing a service to our customers from our branch on Bedford Street and, as such, we have agreed through our legal agents to remain in the building until our lease expires at the end of the year.

"We are committed to investing in Belfast and plans are under way for our new branch in Donegall Square."

It's believed developers cannot start key digging and work on the ground floor and basement until Nationwide moves out.

The building society is due to move into the former Karen Millen store, at nearby Donegall Square. Work is also still ongoing on that new premises.

The hotel is the brainchild of the Ballymena-based Hill family, which owns the Galgorm Resort & Spa.

Revised plans for the hotel, which is now due to be called The Linenhall, include a total of 80 bedrooms, two bars, a restaurant and banquet hall.

Once Nationwide leaves, work is expected to begin some time in January.

That will include stonework, windows, a rework of the roof, and work on the basement.

The hotel was due to be opened in autumn this year, but a series of delays have hit progress on the top-end city centre building.

In 2014, it was one of the first listed building projects to be hit by a grant freeze - leaving a shortfall in the project's funding.

It had hoped for more than £500,000 towards the project.

The new hotel will compete with several new developments in the city, including the nearby Grand Central Hotel, which is a new 200-bedroom hotel run by the Hastings Hotels group at the 23-storey Windsor House building on Bedford Street.

The Scottish Mutual building was bought by the Hill family in 2013, after it was put on the market for £2m by the Republic's 'bad bank' Nama. The Hill family also opened a new restaurant - Fratelli - in Belfast towards the end of 2014.

Speaking about the development, Adrian Lambe of architects Douglas Wallace, told the Belfast Telegraph last year that the developers are "leaving as much in as possible" of the listed building's original fixtures and fittings.

"There are original tiles and art nouveau details, and we will leave as much as we can. That makes it interesting," he said.

And while still in the design process at that stage, Mr Lambe said it would be based on other popular 'boutique' hotels in cities such as New York and London.

And he said the team will be involved in "a lot of conservation" work.

Belfast Telegraph

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