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Work begins on 'huge' £13m Bedford Hotel scheme as architect reveals project plans

By John Mulgrew

Published 28/09/2015

An artist’s impression of the Bedford Hotel, which is on schedule to open in October next year
An artist’s impression of the Bedford Hotel, which is on schedule to open in October next year

Work on the "huge" £13m Bedford Hotel project in Belfast has finally begun, with Dublin architect Douglas Wallace revealing its plans for the Scottish Mutual building development.

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

And The Bedford has now grown to a 70-bedroom development, boasting four to five high-class suites, according to Douglas Wallace director Adrian Lambe.

"This is a huge project for us," Mr Lambe said.

It will include two restaurants, one aimed at non-hotel guests, along with a large banqueting hall.

The project has now broken ground, with Douglas Wallace beginning to strip out some parts of the building.

The firm will look after most of the elements of the massive new development, including exterior design, building and the interior fit-out.

And 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," Mr Lambe said.

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

And he is confident it will be open by October next year as planned.

The team will be involved in "a lot of conservation" work, Mr Lambe said.

But it's a big project which has faced setbacks and delays.

At the end of last year it faced a funding shortfall of at least £500,000 for key restoration work amid a government grant freeze.

"We have budget constraints to work on, but it is challenging," Mr Lambe said.

And the development comes as Douglas Wallace finished another major Hill family venture.

The Galgorm Resort outside Ballymena has undergone a major £10m extension and revamp. And now that project is completed, Douglas Wallace has turned its attention to the latest hotel project in Belfast city centre.

The company has had something of a rebirth itself. In its first incarnation, it employed around 200 people, after setting up in 1982.

But the property collapse in 2008 hit the firm hard and the "rug got pulled" from underneath it. It entered liquidation in 2009.

The business - which is headed by well-known architect Hugh Wallace - was then reborn as Douglas Wallace Consultants in early 2010.

Since then, it has worked on major projects across the globe, including as far afield as Oman and other parts of the Middle East.

"We have built a steady base of good clients since then," Mr Lambe said.

And he said there was a "burgeoning industry" in hotel refurbishment, especially for the higher end market in Belfast city centre.

The new Bedford Hotel will compete with several new developments in the city, including the nearby Grand Central Hotel - 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 last year.

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