Hastings Group unveils Grand plans for £30m luxury hotel
BELFAST'S tallest building Windsor House is to be transformed from a bland 1970s office block into a luxury 200-bed hotel as part of a £30 million investment by the Hastings Group.
It will be called the Belfast Grand Central Hotel in a nod to a hotel of similar name built on Royal Avenue in the Victoria era, but which was forced to shut its doors in 1970 as civil unrest kicked in.
And when the new hotel opens by Christmas 2017 it will lead to the creation of 150 jobs and help put the city in prime position to host world sporting fixtures and international conferences.
The last Windsor House tenants - they include the remnants of the British-Irish Joint Secretariat - are now on notice to leave the Bedford Street building, which once also housed the Parades Commission and was the north's main tax office.
Hastings paid £6 million last month to buy the 23-storey 260-feet tall building, which has dominated the city's skyline since it opened in 1975.
And when granted the necessary planning approvals, which seems fairly certain, contractors expect move in within months to start clearance work and asbestos removal.
The Grand Central will be the seventh hotel in the Hastings portfolio (its other properties include the Culloden, Europa, Slieve Donard and Stormont) and bring the privately owned chain's room numbers to more than 1,000.
When complete the hotel will operate at the upper end of the four-star market, offering 200 bedrooms, a restaurant and bar, 18 serviced apartments and a range of high-end offices covering 25,000 sq ft over the top four floors.
The north only provides about 8,000 bedrooms compared to 60,000 in the Republic, and at least 1,500 more rooms are needed by 2020 if the region is to meet targets set in the latest tourism strategy, which envisages spend doubling from its current £460m level.
Sir William Hastings, chairman of Hastings Hotels, said: “We're delighted to be unveiling plans for what will be the seventh hotel in Northern Ireland and which represents our biggest-ever single investment of £30 million.
“The project is a huge undertaking for us but has only been made possible by the strength of our existing hotels portfolio and the quality of our staff and management."
And he added: “I'm also thrilled to announce that our it will be called the Belfast Grand Central Hotel in tribute to this much loved luxurious property of the past."
The original Grand Central, which also boasted 200 bedrooms, was built in 1893 and was the thriving hub of Victorian Belfast as well as the finest hotel in Ireland, with Winston Churchill, the King of Belgium, Al Jolson, Mario Lanza and the Beatles among its guests.
Economy minister Jonathan Bell said he was "very impressed" by Hastings Hotels' vision for its new city centre hotel.
He said: "This is great news for Belfast and for Northern Ireland, as the group's continued investment is a massive vote of confidence in our tourism sector.
"The new hotel will add considerably to the local accommodation offering and allow Northern Ireland to capitalise further on the growing international business conference market."