Plans to transform a landmark building in Belfast city centre into a boutique hotel have been given the green light.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has recommended planning approval for a £12 million revamp of the 100-year-old Scottish Mutual Building, which sits on the corner of Bedford Street and Donegall Square opposite City Hall.
The development of the 40 room hotel is anticipated to create 180 full and part-time jobs. A potential 100 jobs will be supported during the construction phase.
The company behind the proposal is Tullymore House, which owns and runs the Galgorm Resort and Spa in Ballymena.
The plans, which will retain all of the building's original features, comprise two bars and two restaurants on the ground and first floors and 10 serviced apartments alongside the hotel rooms on the upper three floors.
Mr Durkan said listed building consent had also been approved to enable a "sympathetic" conversion of the Grade B1 Listed Building. The hotel could be open by summer 2016.
"This is welcome news for Belfast City Centre," said the minister.
"The significant investment demonstrates a confidence in the local economy. This boutique style accommodation will boost tourism by enhancing the choice for tourists, business travellers and local people.
"The plans to convert this beautiful building sympathetically will restore it to full use and ensure that it remains an historic landmark within the Linen Conservation Area of Belfast City Centre. The work will also bring construction jobs in the short term and full and part time jobs when up and running.
"Due to its economic significance this proposal was designated a Large Scale Investment Project and both the planning application and Listed Building Consent were determined within six months. This is all part of my vision for a fast, fair and fit for purpose planning system that builds a better environment and a stronger economy."
Colin Johnston, project manager of the hotel development, welcomed the Stormont announcement.
"We're delighted that the Department of Environment's planning department and Environment Minister Mark H Durkan have given us the formal go-ahead to proceed with our plans to sympathetically restore the Scottish Mutual building into a luxury, boutique hotel which will accommodate the hospitality needs of everyone in the city," he said.
"These plans have been carefully based on our belief that we can add real value and worth by turning this landmark building into a contemporary and stylish venue which will sit comfortably alongside the city's best hotels, and our commitment to deliver a top quality offering that will continually exceed the expectations of our guests.
"We look forward to starting work and watching the hotel take shape as this impressive building once again becomes a landmark for the city centre."