RICHARD Branson's Virgin Hotels Group this week signed a deal which will give it a 50% share in the lease and management of the hotel due to open at London's former County Hall.
The group, renamed last week from the Voyager Hotel Group, will put ú5m into the deal. This will be matched by the Japanese Shirayama Corporation, which bought the property two years ago for ú65m and expects to open the hotel in 1996.
A Virgin spokeswoman said Shirayama would pay for all the development costs of the 570-bedroom hotel, expected to total ú150m, although Virgin is to have substantial input into the plans. When redevelopment is complete a Virgin-Shirayama joint-venture company will take over the property's 25-year lease.
Announcing the deal this week, Mr Branson said one of the attractions had been the building's location next to the Channel Tunnel rail link terminal at Waterloo International.
"The building is wonderfully situated and is just yards from what will be central London's train equivalent to Heathrow," he said.
The four-star hotel is to be aimed at the business and family markets, with a family room costing less than ú100. All bedrooms will be 40sq m in size, enabling children to sleep in the same room as their parents.
In addition, all rooms will have views across the river, although Shirayama hopes to develop secondary buildings behind the main County Hall to bring the total number of bedrooms to about 1,200.
The deal will bring Virgin's hotel expertise and travel contacts to the project, with the property featuring check-in facilities for Virgin Airways travellers.
The complex is expected to create around 500 jobs and will feature impressive leisure and conference amenities, including an aquarium, indoor running track, museum, wedding chapel, Virtual Reality entertainment centre and a World Gourmet Arcade with an array of international cafés and restaurants.
Many facilities will be open to the public as well as guests, with some expected to be ready before the hotel itself is open for business.
The building's ornate debating chamber is to be used for conferences, while Shirayama has expressed interest in converting an adjacent building into a world trade fair venue.