Belfast Telegraph

George Best Hotel to 'open in April' as more investors seek repayment

Owner Lawrence Kenwright outside the yet to open George Best Hotel
Owner Lawrence Kenwright outside the yet to open George Best Hotel
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

The company behind the George Best Hotel in Belfast has said the much-delayed venue is due to open in April, as the number of investors in the property calling for repayment mounts up.

Developer Signature Living said it intends to borrow more money on the hotel when it's up and running, promising to repay investors at that point.

However, it said it won't be taking bookings until closer to the date.

It was first expected to open in December 2018 but has been subject to a series of delays.

In October, Signature Living boss Lawrence Kenwright said he hoped to open the venue in February and said he'd spent £10.5m so far on the site.

This week Muna Anwar, a mother-of-three living in Carrickfergus, said she was waiting on repayment of a total investment of £107,000 in the project.

She said she feared she wouldn't get the money back.

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Ms Anwar is one of many people who ploughed sums of up to £100,000 into the hotel after responding to a call for investment from Signature Living on the basis of buying a single hotel room.

But most have yet to be repaid any money despite repeated reassurances from the company.

Ms Anwar has been repaid around £4,200 in two instalments in 2018.

A spokesman for the company told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that it had been in touch with investors to update them.

He said: "Work on the site has been delayed while we waited for planning permission but we anticipate that the final stage of construction work will start by mid-January with the hotel due to start trading in April 2020.

"Once the George Best Hotel is trading, Signature Living will re-finance the property at which point all the investors will be repaid and receive the return on investment (ROI) they are entitled to."

Belfast City Council is due to announce its decision on a planning application for the latest phase of work this month.

"Signature Living has worked with the council to address its concerns," the spokesman said.

"The group expects to start on the final stage of the George Best development in mid-January."

He added: "Signature Living is a successful and well-respected company which has already paid out in excess of £20m in returns to investors since 2012.

"This figure is on top of the original investment that has been returned to investors on exit from development schemes.

"Indeed, many of our investors have reinvested in subsequent projects, having already made significant returns."

The spokesman said that the company was the outright owner of the George Best property, the Scottish Mutual Building and had the right to buy-back the investors over three to seven years.

"Each investor retains this secured structure throughout the term of their investment and is thereby protected and can register their investment with the Land Registry.

"We have already successfully completed investor buy-backs in the James Street and Stanley Street Hotels, with investors in James Street making a 50% return on investment over a five-year period. We will contact Muna Anwar to discuss any concerns she has."

The plans to launch the hotel in December last year were halted after planning officials at the City Council raised concerns over "unauthorised works" at the landmark building.

At that point, the company said it was working "proactively" with the council on the progress of the hotel and that it would open in early 2019 "pending no further objections".

It had also planned hotels at Crumlin Road Courthouse and at the War Memorial Building at Waring Street. Both units have since been put on the market.

But at the end of October, Mr Kenwright said he could retain the north Belfast courthouse, although it still appears to be for sale.

However, the Waring Street building is sale agreed, with reports that property investment firm Wirefox has bought the property.

Belfast Telegraph