Pearl revamp ‘will be McConville’s legacy’

Iconic Belfast city centre building is revived as 220-desk corporate co-working space

New flexible office space for Belfast
Brian McConville CBE and his wife Connie with the new One Donegall Square East building in the background

Newry entrepreneur Brian McConville has ploughed close to £7 million into acquiring and converting one of Belfast city centre’s most iconic buildings into new luxury serviced office accommodation.

The imposing red sandstone Pearl Assurance House in the shadow of the City Hall - which was heralded as an exemplary piece of Gothic revival style architecture when it opened in 1902 at a cost of £30,000 - has been revived as ' One Donegall Square East’, a 220-desk corporate co-working space.

“This will be my legacy,” says McConville (63), a joiner by trade, who founded the MJM Group in 1983 and turned it into a multi-million pound global business.

His Rathbane Group paid more than £2 million to buy the former financial centre (which also once housed the government’s Ministry of Home Affairs) out of receivership in 2015.

Since then company - which comprises MJM Marine, Mivan and Topglass - has spent north of £4 million on its fit-out.

And as you’d expect from such a meticulous outfitting specialist as McConville, he’s ensured the finish at One Donegall Square East is truly impeccable, right down to the last spurs on the building’s ornate staircases.

The five-storey building has been sympathetically restored from its once historical elegance into an ultra-modern design, with flexible workspace solutions from four- to 40-bays, and an extension to add a roof terrace on the third floor.

Rooms or desks can be hired short or long term by businesses or individuals who want to be part of an exclusive business community in the heart of the city centre, and it includes a corporate co-working members’ space.

new flexible working space in Belfast
Pearl Assurance House was designed by Young & Mackenzie Architects in the gothic-style for Ocean Accident & Guarantee Corporation Ltd. It was built in red sandstone by Robert Corry at a cost of £30,000 between 1899 and 1902.

It comes at a time when demand for flexible office rentals has soared to previously unseen levels in Ireland.

Indeed research predicts that 30% of offices will be rented on a flex basis by 2030 as organisations increasingly move away from the restrictions imposed by conventional office leaseholds in favour of options that afford them more freedom and flexibility.

“There’s quite a bit of competition in this sector, but we believe our venue sets us apart from some of the other co-working spaces in the city centre,” added McConville, who was awarded a CBE by the late Queen Elizabeth in 2020 for services to the economy and to charity.

“We have already signed up a number of key clients, and we expect that our unique offer will appeal to both indigenous and also overseas clients,” he said.

His Rathbane Group, whose other directors are Brian’s daughter Naoimh (36) and son Conleth (34), will formally launch One Donegall Square East to invited guests on Thursday.

Barry McStravick, head of property for Rathbane, said: “We had a vision for the redevelopment of Pearl Assurance House which included modernising the interior into Grade A office accommodation, while retaining the history, character and charm of the property. This historic building deserved to be restored to its former glory.

“The fully serviced building will have a manager, 24-hour access, virtual office and fully automated access. Members can avail of a lounge, meeting spaces and event space as well as the terrace.

“We look forward to welcoming our first tenants in the coming weeks, which include a healthy, fast food café on the ground floor.”