Belfast Telegraph

George Best Hotel company taking steps to reassure worried investors

The George Best hotel in Belfast city centre
The George Best hotel in Belfast city centre

By Mark McConville

The company behind Belfast's George Best Hotel has said it plans to update investors after one said she had been waiting since the summer for more than £100,000 to be repaid.

Signature Living added it was seeking revised consent from Belfast City Council.

If granted, it would allow the firm to finish conversion work on the building.

The company spoke out after an investor who ploughed more than £100,000 into the hotel said she was sceptical about getting her money back.

The business's investment model involved buying a room in the hotel, which is scheduled to open in the listed Scottish Mutual Building in Donegall Square, then getting a return from sales of the room to guests.

It had been due to open at the end of November last year and was then pushed back to February this year, but it remains unfinished, with Signature Living boss Lawrence Kenwright previously indicating it could now open in February next year.

However, the company yesterday failed to respond to a request for a definite date.

Sign In

German investor Susanne Grampe told BBC Newsline last night: "I rang Signature Living many times and always only got an answering machine. Nobody ever rang back.

"My parents are quite unwell at the moment, so I would have needed the money to pay for some of their healthcare.

"In the summer... I expected to get weekly payments from Signature Living, which didn't happen. They really let me down. They make so many promises.

"You just want to get your money back without having to wait for another one or two years. I've waited long enough."

Mr Kenwright said he regretted any "inconvenience that investors such as Ms Grampe have experienced in receiving returns on their investments".

He added that property investment was "less liquid" than other forms of investment, "so returns and redemptions are dependent upon completion of the development".

"We have faced well-documented delays in our redevelopment of the site, caused by some unexpected issues resulting from local planning and building controls," Mr Kenwright added.

"Delays such as this can be inevitable with heritage redevelopments.

"However, we are about to go before the Belfast Council planning committee for revised consent, which will allow us to finish construction on this listed building and refinance the property.

"We recognise that we could have communicated the situation more clearly.

"We are (taking) steps to do so from now on. This includes (setting up) an investor hotline."

Belfast City Council confirmed its planning service was considering amended proposals for converting the building into a 63-bed hotel with a function space, bars and restaurants.

Signature Living said it had paid out more than £20m in returns to investors in other hotels since 2012.

Belfast Telegraph