Former George Best Hotel was sold for £5.5 million, new documents show

The former Scottish Mutual Building in Belfast, which was acquired by the Martin Group for £5.5m in December.
The former Scottish Mutual Building in Belfast, which was acquired by the Martin Group for £5.5m in December.

THE new owners of the former George Best Hotel in Belfast paid £5.5 million for the asset, newly published documents show.

The Derry-based Martin Property Group was confirmed as the winning bidder for the failed hotel project in December last year.

Leeson Street Projects, a company set up last year by the group, was one of ten bidders for the former Scottish Mutual Building

The Martin Group completed the purchase for £5.5m on December 14 and announced its plan to develop a new ‘high-end boutique hotel’ the following day.

Originally acquired by Liverpool developer Lawrence Kenwright in 2017, the listed building was announced as the first Belfast hotel in the Signature Living group portfolio.

The project was hit by delays and planning issues, with administrators from Kroll called in by lender Lyell Trading in April 2020 over a debt of around £7.2m.

The preferred strategy for the administrators was originally to complete the hotel to maximise its value. But unable to raise the funds required to do so, the administrators instead sought court approval to sell the asset.

That led to a court battle involving a group of individuals who were among those who invested just under £5m in the project.

Some 59 of the hotel’s 63 rooms were sold ‘off plan’ by Signature Living to the ‘bedroom investors’.

The court ultimately found that the proceeds of any sale should go to the secured creditor first, namely Lyell Trading.

Ten bids were lodged when the hotel was listed for sale last September.

Kroll said none of the bids matched the £7.2m owed to the secured creditor, meaning there were no remaining funds to distribute.

The Martin Group has emerged as one of the north’s most active real estate investment companies in the past year.

Last month, the group announced it had bought ‘The Warehouse’, a six storey office building on James Street South in Belfast, which adjoins the former Scottish Mutual Building.

Its other prominent assets in Belfast include Ross’s Court, Marlborough House on Victoria Street and the Danesfort building in Stranmillis. The group also own the Richmond Shopping Centre in Derry.

According to Companies House, the vehicle for the Scottish Mutual Building acquisition, Leeson Street Projects, includes an outside shareholder: Beechlands Enterprises.

Although it is registered in Derry, the business is owned by the London-based Tim Frost and Alison Rankin Frost. Documents published by Companies House suggest the pair have also provided financing to the Martin Group for the deal.