Business

Wirefox to spend £3.7m acquiring Waring Street building from troubled Kenwright

The 'sale agreed' sign has gone up at the War Memorial Building, which is believed to have been sold to Castlecourt owners Wirefox. Photo: Hugh Russell
Gary McDonald Business Editor

PROPERTY investment firm Wirefox is on the verge of completing a £3.7 million purchase of the former War Memorial Building on Belfast's Waring Street.

The 90,000 sq ft building is currently owned by Signature Living, fronted by Liverpool-based hotels entrepreneur Lawrence Kenwright.

He had intended to spend £5 million to turn the former museum into a 42-bedroom hotel together with ground floor bar/restaurant and a rooftop bar, in what he said would be “a vibrant new addition” to that part of the city.

But the company, which is also behind the long-delayed George Best Hotel in Belfast, has run into financial difficulties and has been selling off a number of its assets as frustrated investors round on Kenwright.

And the Irish News understands Wirefox has offered £3.7m to acquire the property, effectively 'gazumping' a number of local bidders in the process.

Those other suitors are thought to have included the Clover Group, which is behind a number of licensed premises in Belfast including Whites Tavern and the newly-opened Fountain in the city centre.

Holywood-based Wirefox already operates a portfolio of commercial property across the UK, and in July 2017 acquired the high-profile Castlecourt shopping centre for £123m.

It is understood the Waring Street acquisition is going through the various legal processes and should be completed within weeks.

A spokesman for Wirefox told the Irish News: “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.”

It isn't known if Wirefox will proceed with a hotel on the Waring Street site, though with planning approvals already in place, that seems the company's most likely option.

The building was put on the market in late summer along with the Crumlin Road courthouse, which Kenwright had also earmarked for a 71-bed hotel. It remains unsold.

A spokesman for Signature Living previously confirmed: "Our sites in Belfast are constantly under review, as part of our continued growth strategy throughout GB."

If the sale of the War Memorial Building is confirmed at £3.7m, it will mean a profit of at least £1m on what Signature is believed to have paid for the building three years ago.

But that is only a crumb of comfort for Kenwright after it emerged that some fed-up investors in the company have flown to Liverpool to confront him face-to-face to ask for their money back after being promised hundreds of thousands of pounds that never materialised.

Susanne Grampe from Germany invested £110,000 in the George Best Hotel in Belfast - money she says was meant to help pay for the care of her elderly parents.

Investors, mainly from overseas, had been encouraged to buy individual rooms in the hotel in return for a guaranteed return on the investment.

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, starting on November 6.

But Ms Grampe told the broadcaster that no payments have yet been made, adding: "I'm devastated. This is an appalling way to treat investors."

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