Belfast Telegraph

Business View: Boutique hotel's prime location still attractive

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's night-time economy has been in the news for many of the wrong reasons over the last couple of days.

Restaurant entrepreneur Emma Bricknell has vowed to leave Belfast in 18 months' time to escape red tape around licences and the lack of progression in social attitudes in many quarters.

And the company which owns Ten Square Hotel, a venue not far from Ms Bricknell's first Made in Belfast restaurant venture in Wellington Street, has now gone into administration.

It's not clear which fund or bank, if any, has appointed EY as administrators.

But despite the lack of clarity, it is still a significant watershed for a hotel which has become a popular venue for wedding and civil partnership celebrations.

The definitive reversal of fortunes of the boutique venue - once described by the Sunday Times as "Belfast's coolest hotel" - will also be vindication for its former owners, the Hill brothers from Ballymena.

They sold the venue to John Miskelly for a reported £10m in 2008 - and the asking price of the hotel when it goes on the market (as it inevitably will after the administrators get to grips with the situation) will likely be well below that.

Meanwhile, the brothers Hill are planning a new hotel just one block away from Ten Square at the former Scottish Mutual Building.

It's possible that they might wish to buy back Ten Square to consolidate their interest in the Donegall Place area, and thwart any hot-to-trot new competitor setting up nearby.

A few years ago, action over unpaid rent on Botanic Inns' Ormeau Road company headquarters by John Miskelly was the first sign of difficulties for that pub company, another formerly unassailable operator in the hospitality industry.

Ten Square's misfortunes may be an anomaly amid a generally improving picture for other parts of the hospitality industry.

According to R3's latest insolvency risk tracker, only 18.9% of pubs in Northern Ireland are considered to have a higher than normal risk of insolvency, compared to the UK average of 27.3%.

But there's no question that Ten Square's desirable city centre location will make it an attractive investment, and could even inspire a bidding situation.

However, a return to the boom price of £10m is unlikely.

Belfast Telegraph