Iconic Belfast building to be turned into a hotel

Lawrence Kenwright outside the Scottish Mutual Building, Signature Living’s second major investment in Belfast this year. Photo: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

PROMINENT hoteliers the Hill family have sold the iconic Scottish Mutual Building in Belfast city centre to the Liverpool-based Signature Living Group for an undisclosed sum, it has been confirmed.

And the new owners, who earlier this year purchased the Crumlin Road Courthouse, say they plan to invest £15 million to restore the Grade B1 listed building and create a luxury boutique hotel, with work likely to start within months.

Hotel developer Lawrence Kenwright of Signature Living has previously said he planned to open a George Best-themed hotel in the city.

But it is understood the Scottish Mutual Building, straddling Donegall Square South and Bedford Street, is not his preferred choice for that venue honouring the football star.

Instead, Kenwright's focus will be on preserving the heritage of the building’s architecture (it was originally designed by Henry Seaver and completed in 1904).

He said: “The Scottish Mutual Building is now the latest in a series of landmark buildings to be carefully restored and developed into luxurious accommodation by Signature Living – such as 30 James Street, the former headquarters of White Star Line in Liverpool and the Exchange Hotel in Cardiff, home to the former coal exchange during the 1800s.

“The building is currently in a state of disrepair and we will be focusing on sympathetically restoring this stunning, Scottish baronial style landmark building back to its former glory and architectural beauty, as well as aligning it with Signature Living’s exciting style and guest experience. We will ensure the building plays its part in telling the story of Belfast at it’s industrial peak.”

The Hill family, best known for their ownership of the Galgorm Resort & Spa, bought the Scottish Mutual Building from the Republic’s bad bank Nama in 2013 for £2 million, and are thought to have sold it on to Signature Living at a profit.

The news follows the Liverpool-based company’s plans to open a George Best-themed hotel in the city, as well as develop as many as three additional hotels in the city, creating 500 jobs.

Mr Kenwright, who was part of the Belfast City Council delegation at last month's MIPIM conference in Cannes, confirmed his company’s commitment to investment in the city which will also include community initiatives such as the launch of a special apprenticeship academy.

He addeed: “The Belfast tourism market is at an exciting stage in its development and I am confident that this new hotel in the Scottish Mutual Building will bring something exciting and new to the city.

“By committing £15 million to the project, we see this as an investment in Belfast and Northern Ireland’s flourishing tourism industry. We want to bring new hotel experiences to the city for international tourists, as well as domestic and business tourists.

“The new hotel at the Scottish Mutual Building will complement our other projects in the city including The Courthouse and a planned George Best themed hotel.”

The newest addition to Belfast’s thriving hotel sector comes as CBRE recently announced 27 hotels schemes are at various stages of development within the city.

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