Business

The business stories you were reading in 2023 . . .

Michael Herbert (left) and Lesley Herbert (right) want to expand Forestside's food and leisure offering to make it more attractive to families.
Michael Herbert (left) and Lesley Herbert (right) want to expand Forestside's food and leisure offering to make it more attractive to families. Michael Herbert (left) and Lesley Herbert (right) want to expand Forestside's food and leisure offering to make it more attractive to families.

THE business team at the Irish News prides itself in bringing readers the most in-depth stories from across the north in areas of finance, retail, technology, planning, hospitality, job creation and so much more.

So what were the stories that had the biggest impact on our readers in 2023? Here is a selection of just six of our stories which were among the most-read this year:

:: What do the new owners of Belfast’s Forestside have in store? - The new owners of Forestside have announced they will set about revamping the popular south Belfast shopping destination within months. But what do Michael and Lesley Herbert’s plans look like? Speaking after news broke in September of their £42 million deal to buy the retail complex became public, Michael Herbert said he would proceed with plans for a new ‘food village’, and is considering developing a new cinema as part of the couple’s move to develop Forestside into both a leisure and shopping destination. “There are going to be three major restaurants,” he said. “We have them all under offer.” The developer expects the building work to begin in January 2024, supporting around 50 construction jobs, with the new hospitality businesses creating 100 permanent posts when they commence trading.

:: New Belfast-Dublin express bus service to launch with £1 tickets - Thousands of business and leisure users will be able to travel on a new bus service between Belfast and Dublin for just £1 from the end of July. Dublin Express, a subsidiary of the UK’s largest coach operator National Express, is investing £8.5 million in a fleet of eight new state-of-the-art coaches over the next 12 months on the new cross-border route. The service will be a rival to the Translink/Bus Éireann, Aircoach and other existing services.

:: Who is James Berwind and why is his $85m superyacht in Belfast? - Visitors to Belfast’s docks and Titanic Quarter in June may have been struck by the sight of a superyacht cruising up the Lagan. The Scout is a 63 metre vessel valued at around $85 million (£67m), and has been popping up all around the island of Ireland in recent days. The boat belongs to James Berwind, a member of the US-based family-owned Berwind Corporation. A member of the fifth generation of Berwinds involved in the business, the 59-year-old Florida resident is estimated to be worth around $500m. His yacht, reportedly named after his dog, is estimated to cost between $5m and $8m per year to run.



:: Caution urged over NI hospitality awards after hundreds of finalists named - including restaurants that are shut - Questions were raised in July over a series of Northern Ireland award events organised by a Glasgow-based marketing company after restaurants, some of which have been out of business for a number of years, were short-listed as finalists. Some 278 businesses were last week named as finalists across 35 categories of the Northern Ireland Restaurant Awards 2023. On the same day, around 400 tourism and hospitality businesses were named as finalists in the Northern Ireland Hospitality Awards. Both events are among the dozens of different awards organised by Glasgow-based Creative Oceanic, a firm understood to be owned by businessman Irfan Younis. The finalists include restaurants which ceased trading in 2021 and others which don’t exist in the towns listed. At least one restaurant listed in the best pizza category does not serve pizza.

How design firm Maxwell & Company envision Dunluce Lodge will look when complete. Inset: Stephen Meldrum who is leaving his role at Grand Central Hotel
How design firm Maxwell & Company envision Dunluce Lodge will look when complete. Inset: Stephen Meldrum who is leaving his role at Grand Central Hotel How design firm Maxwell & Company envision Dunluce Lodge will look when complete. Inset: Stephen Meldrum who is leaving his role at Grand Central Hotel
James Berwind (inset), has moored his $85m Scout superyacht in Belfast this week. Picture by Hugh Russell.
James Berwind (inset), has moored his $85m Scout superyacht in Belfast this week. Picture by Hugh Russell. James Berwind (inset), has moored his $85m Scout superyacht in Belfast this week. Picture by Hugh Russell.

:: Grand Central’s Stephen Meldrum poached for role at £16.5m Portrush resort - One of the north’s most experienced hotel managers has been hand-picked by US investors to run the north coast’s first five-star hotel and spa, which is due to open next summer. Links Collection’s Texan co-founders Jonathan Harper and Robert Covington have lured Stephen Meldrum away from Belfast’s Grand Central Hotel. Meldrum (46) will take up his new role in January 2024 running Dunluce Lodge, a 35-suite luxury complex overlooking the fourth fairway at Royal Portrush golf club.

:: Trading places as two key tenants vacate Victoria Square - A number of high-profile retailers are trading places in Belfast, according to commercial property agents CBRE, with Victoria Square losing two key tenants. CBRE’s latest quarterly report in October showed that total investment transaction volumes in Northern Ireland over the first nine months of this year, at £277 million, was 59 per cent higher than the same period in 2022, with spending in the past three months alone reaching £122m. The report pointed to “positive leasing activity” in Belfast and across the north, with H&M confirmed as a tenant at the former BHS site on Castle Lane in Belfast city centre. Known as ‘The Keep’, H&M will lease 20,000 sq ft in what will be its flagship Belfast store as it plans to relocate from Victoria Square. River Island also plans to vacate the centre as part of a relocation to Donegall Place.