Belfast is getting jazzed up as its plushest hotel receives a £16m new extension.
The Merchant Hotel in the city's Cathedral Quarter will boast Bert’s Jazz Bar, conference facilities, a spa, 38 new bedrooms and a roof-top garden when the extension opens to the public in August.
Petra Wolsey, the hotel's marketing manager, said: “Picture yourself on the terrace of the jazz bar on a Sunday, eggs Benedict in front of you and a Bloody Mary in your hand. That's the sort of feel we want to bring to Belfast.”
But Bill Wolsey, head of the Beannchor Group which owns the hotel, said his confidence about filling the 38 new rooms was not the same as when the ambitious expansion plans were first conceived.
“When I originally decided to spend this amount of money I didn’t quite see this economic climate coming, so my confidence isn’t quite what it was.
“But we have a good product that’s competitively priced. Moving up to a hotel with more bedrooms opens other markets that we can’t cater for at the moment.
“If someone comes to us looking to book 15 to 20 rooms, we can’t do that at the moment, but we will be able to.”
He said he was proud of what the Merchant Hotel had brought to Belfast since opening five years ago.
“We have created a landmark that the people of Belfast can continue to take pride in.”
Mr Wolsey said the company was working with government departments in a bid to pedestrianise the narrow Skipper Street, which runs past the reception area of the newly-extended hotel.
But he said attempts to arrange Sunday outdoor markets in the narrow cobbled streets of the Cathedral Quarter were slow to come to fruition.
“Weekend breaks are a good part of the trade but you get to Sunday and people need something to do. If they could just remove the quagmire of bureaucracy and outdoor markets could be held,” he said.
A spokesman for Belfast City Council said its development and licensing committees had approved the holding of outdoor markets in the Cathedral Quarter on Sundays, but the council was “ironing out” legislative issues.
“Given that it takes three months for stall-holders to apply for a licence, it could be next summer before we see outdoor markets in the Cathedral Quarter,” a spokesman said.