A former Methodist church in Belfast was sold for around £1.2m to budget pub chain JD Wetherspoon – around three times the asking price.
It was initially thought that the Grade B listed building had been sold for £800,000 – but the Belfast Telegraph can today reveal that it was sold for much more. The original asking price for the red-brick property, which is 9,260sq ft, was just £400,000.
But yesterday, sources indicated that this was only around a third of what it was finally sold for.
Accountancy firm PwC declined to comment, but it is understood the company acted as fixed charge receiver for the property on University Street, previously owned by Soll Developments. It's believed there were a number of bidders for the building, which closed after congregation numbers declined, with substantial interest shown for a variety of uses.
Wetherspoon's already owns nine pubs across Northern Ireland. It is also in negotiations to buy the former JJB Sports building on Royal Avenue in Belfast – a deal first revealed by the Belfast Telegraph in June.
Lewis Gordon, senior surveyor at Dunlop Heywood, said the reason why the property was sold for such a high price was due to the unique nature of the building. He said: "Rarely does such a landmark property come to the market for sale and Wetherspoon's have clearly identified an opportunity to convert this listed property into a unique licensed premises to cater for the university market."
"Any buyer of such a unique property has a number of hurdles to overcome from a planning and redevelopment perspective. The substantial costs associated with this would need to be factored into their acquisition price. Whilst this is positive news for the Northern Ireland property market it still lags behind what we would have seen for such a property at the peak, back in 2007."
The pub chain's chairman and founder Tim Martin said the purchase was part of major expansion in Northern Ireland.
Mr Martin, originally from Holywood, Co Down, said: "We are doing very, very well at the Bridge House and that gives us confidence to have a look at a few more areas."
The new pub will be a similar size to the one it owns on Bedford Street in Belfast. The chain also looking at opening in other towns.