Belfast Telegraph

George Best Hotel opening date will be revealed soon, say owners Signature Living

Lawrence Kenwright is developing the new George Best Hotel in Belfast
Lawrence Kenwright is developing the new George Best Hotel in Belfast

By Caitriona McBride

The company behind Belfast's George Best Hotel, Signature Living, has claimed it will announce its opening date "soon".

Signature Living owner Lawrence Kenwright has faced controversy over delays in the hotel's opening, with investors seeking their money back.

He has also hit out at planners at Belfast City Council over his work on the hotel's site, the Scottish Mutual Building.

But a spokesman said yesterday: "With regards to the George Best Hotel, positive negotiations with Belfast City Council planning continue, and an opening date will be announced very shortly."

A BBC report said that some international investors had flown to the UK to ask for their money back.

Investors in Signature Living were encouraged to buy individual rooms in its properties, including the George Best Hotel, in return for a guaranteed return.

The BBC report said that several investors, from countries across Europe and Asia, were promised hundreds of thousands of pounds that was never given to them.

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The company owns a number of historic and refurbished properties across the UK. Mr Kenwright said investors would eventually get their money and "they have to trust me".

He told the BBC earlier this year that every hotel investor would receive what was owed to them by the end of May.

But investor Susanne Grampe told the BBC: "It's just an appalling way to treat investors."

She travelled to Liverpool from Germany in the hope a face to face encounter would see her receive the figure of around £110,000 owed to her. "I'm devastated," she added.

Ms Grampe said the money she hoped to recoup was meant to help pay for the care of her elderly parents.

The BBC reported that it had seen a document, signed by a senior Signature executive, appearing to confirm the amount owed and promising to repay her over six weekly payments.

Ms Grampe told the BBC that no payments had been made.

Last summer Mr Kenwright let a team of staff go from the hotel after the opening date was repeatedly pushed back.

Work stopped on the hotel last year because of a probe over concerns about "unauthorised works". Mr Kenwright has spent £10.5m on the hotel so far.

Meanwhile, according to the Irish News, property investment firm Wirefox is on the verge of completing a £3.7m purchase of the former War Memorial Building on Belfast's Waring Street, also owned by Signature Living.

Mr Kenwright had intended to invest some £5m to turn the 90,000 sq ft building into a 42 bedroom hotel.

However, their financial troubles have seen them selling off assets.

A Signature Living spokesman said: "Signature Living has engaged with a number of interested parties with regards to their sites publicly offered for sale. The Waring, amongst others, are currently being discussed."

Wirefox is based in Holywood and operates commercial property across the UK.

The firm said: "As a company focused on growth and investment, we are always seeking new opportunities where we can add and create commercial value.

"Routinely, we are regularly engaged in confidential discussions with a range of local, national and international partners. As such, we do not comment on the nature or outcome of any discussions until they have concluded."

Belfast Telegraph