George Best Hotel may still open after investor appoints administrators

The George Best Hotel Belfast, which has been placed in administration. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Ryan McAleer

ONE of the administrators appointed to the unfinished George Best Hotel in Belfast has suggested the city centre venture could still open.

Michael Lennon of the London-based Duff & Phelps, said he had been appointed one of the joint administrators by property development loan firm Lyell Trading.

Lyell Trading is a subsidiary of the Gloucester-based investment group Blackfinch.

Duff & Phelps confirmed a number of firms linked to Liverpool developer Lawrence Kenwright have been placed into administration.

The list includes Bedford Hotel Limited, the company behind the unfinished hotel behind Belfast City Hall.

Mr Lennon said Lyell Trading had intervened “in order to protect its investment and provide a platform from which the hotel can be completed”.

He said: “We recognise the value of the George Best Hotel as a finished development and trading hotel.

“In so far as it is possible, advance bookings and reservations remain unaffected. We will be exploring all options with the current funders to maximise its value and ultimately the return to creditors.”

The move effectively puts an end to Lawrence Kenwright’s development prospects in Belfast.

It comes just over three years after the Merseyside-based developer announced plans to establish five hotels in the city at an investment event led by Belfast City Council.

His company Signature Living, which specialised in redeveloping listed properties in Liverpool, acquired the former Scottish Mutual Building for around £6m in 2017, with plans to open the £15m George Best Hotel in the summer of 2018.

Large sums were also paid for the former Crumlin Courthouse and the former Royal Ulster Rifles Museum on Waring Street in Belfast.

Mr Kenwright’s relationship with the council soured in late 2018 over planning issues relating to the listed Scottish Mutual Building.

The latter two buildings were later placed on the market, but as recently as January, the developer had insisted that funding was still in place for the George Best Hotel, which finally granted planning approval for a 63-bed hotel at the start of 2020.

But the Liverpool developer has faced mounting pressure from increasingly frustrated investors.

That included a number of so-called ‘bedroom investors’, who paid deposits to own individual rooms inside the George Best Hotel.

Michael Lennon said that the administrators are aware of a number of such investors.

“We will be contacting all investors at the earliest opportunity to confirm our appointment and gather further information,” he said.

Inside the unfinished George Best Hotel. Picture by Hugh Russell.

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