THE legacy of footballing genius George Best, whose name already adorns his home city's airport, will be further enhanced when an 80-bedroom boutique hotel bearing his name opens in Belfast city centre next June.
Developers Signature Living have outlined their ambitious plans for a multi-million pound revamp of the former Scottish Mutual building in Donegall Street North.
Signature's chairman Lawrence Kenwright, who is also turning the Crumlin Road courthouse into a 150-bedroom hotel, bought the Scottish Mutual building earlier this year for more than £6 million.
Kenwright, a Liverpudlian, has collaborated with the Best family on the venture dedicated to honouring the late great football icon, promising that guests can expect a touch of the charm and charisma that shone from Best himself.
George Best - who in many people's eyes was at least on a par with (if not better than) the likes of Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and Messi in footballing brilliance - played for Manchester United for more than 10 years in the 1960s and 1970s and donned the Northern Ireland shirt on 37 occasions.
He died in 2005, aged just 59, after a long battle with alcoholism.
Family and friends of the football legend, including his sister Barbara (McNarry), have presented Signature Living with iconic items of memorabilia to start a unique collection for the new George Best Hotel.
The items included replica European Cups, a silver Northern Ireland cap, paintings of George and a shirt signed by many of the mourners who attended his funeral.
Mr Kenwright said: “This is truly an exciting day for us as we receive these pieces of memorabilia that will form the beginning of a George Best collection at the hotel.
“This marks the next step in our journey to bring George and his genius to life within the hotel.
"We’re passionate about creating and sharing stories and this is a fabulous way to showcase Belfast’s most famous son. It will be a visual experience that will reflect his footballing prowess and the hero he was to so many people in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and further afield.”
Barbara McNarry said the family is delighted that her brother’s life and career are being honoured in such a stunning building, adding: "We have every faith in Signature Living’s ability to bring George’s story to life within this hotel.”
Belfast lord mayor Nuala McAllister said: “This is an exciting development in the city centre not just for the residents of Belfast who remember George Best with pride and affection, but for fans and visitors from across the world who also admired his outstanding football skills."
The George Best Hotel is among a number of new hotels due to open in Belfast in the next two years, with around 3,000 bedrooms being added to the city's stock.