Belfast Telegraph

Financial services firm tipped to take on revamped bank

By Margaret Canning

A financial services firm is tipped to set up in an elegant former First Trust building in Belfast after it was snapped up a French property company. Stargime, which is based in Paris, has submitted plans for a £20m revamp of the old First Trust at Queen's Square after buying it from the bank for £2m.

The scheme will involve retaining the listed Victorian part of the building and demolishing the 1980s extension.

The company said it will convert the building, empty since 2013, into Grade A offices, creating around 154 construction jobs.

Director Jonas Mallard said the scheme would create offices of an "international standard," a project which would also improve the area, which is close to Custom House Square.

He said an operator in the high-profile financial services sector was the target.

However, it's understood that negotiations are going on between Stargime and an existing inward investor in Belfast.

It is claimed that a lack of Grade A offices in Belfast is deterring foreign direct investors - prompting Invest NI to announce this year that it will consider providing mezzanine or equity finance to Grade A office projects.

Stargime's plans came as a report by commercial property agents CBRE commented on a major pick-up in the market.

"There has been a noticeable increase in interest in the Northern Ireland market from UK institutional buyers over recent months and encouragingly several new entrants are focusing on opportunities in the region," the report said.

Recent deals included hotel giant Hastings Group's purchase of Windsor House for £6.5m as well as the acquisition by the Executive of five office buildings in Belfast for a total of £25m. 

It also revealed that serviced offices giant Regus was seeking 20 new serviced office centres across Northern Ireland - though the company refused to confirm the deals to the Belfast Telegraph.

CBRE also said new restaurant deals were in the offing, including burger bar franchise Five Guys - and Carluccio's, the popular Italian chain founded by Antonio Carluccio. A spokeswoman for the chain said it had "no concrete details" on any move into Belfast.

The Belfast Telegraph reported in November 2013 Carluccio's had investigated Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph