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Green light for final phase of Signature Living George Best hotel

24 January 2020 by

Planning permission has been granted for the final construction phase of Signature Living's George Best hotel, with a target completion date of June 2020.

The property developer and hotel operator said funding is in place and now final planning consent has been granted by Belfast City Council, construction will "continue apace".

The project will see the city's Scottish Mutual Building transformed into a 65-bedroom hotel celebrating the life and career of Northern Irish footballing icon George Best. The venue will offer a 150-cover ground floor bar and restaurant and a 120-cover top floor conference and wedding venue.

The Grade B1-listed building was purchased by Signature Living in 2017 and, according to the company, has been "subject to planning delays related to its status as a listed building".

Employees taken on ahead of the opening, originally planned for June 2018, were offered opportunities at other Signature Living hotels or were "compensated accordingly" following delays, the group said.

Following completion, Signature Living said it will get the hotel re-valued, "enabling it to refinance the hotel and buy out all individual investors, delivering them their full return on investment".

Lawrence Kenwright, chairman of Signature Living, said: "We're delighted to have achieved planning permission and finally be on the home straight in the construction of this beautiful hotel. Restoring listed buildings is not always a smooth ride and it hasn't been so with this hotel, but I'm excited that we are now close to the George Best joining our stable of successful trading hotels.

"We are grateful to our investors for their patience with this development and we will be in touch with them all over the coming weeks to commence the buy-back process."

Signature Living had also intended to turn Belfast's former Crumlin Road Courthouse and War Memorial buildings into hotels, however has now put these two properties up for sale. This is on top of the 59-bedroom Shankly hotel and the 63-bedroom 30 James Street hotel, both in Liverpool, which are also up for sale.

Founded in 2008, Signature Living operates six trading properties in the UK, including the Signature Living aparthotel, the Shankly hotel, 30 James Street, Arthouse hotel and the Alma de Cuba bar-restaurant in Liverpool.

The group has 12 other properties under construction and opened its first hotel outside of Liverpool, the Exchange hotel in Cardiff, in 2017. The final phase of construction is due to be completed in April after the council approved the company's application for a Town Centre Loan Scheme yesterday. The intention is also to revalue the hotel on completion and then refinance or sell the property and buy out remaining investors.

To date, £15m has been spent on refurbishing the Coal Exchange building. Work began on the site in 2016 and the first phase consisting of 56 bedrooms, a renovated hall, new bar and restaurant, which opened to the public in 2017. However, further sections of the building need to be brought back into use to complete the refurbishment. The new loan represents around half of the full amount required to complete the development, although this figure was not disclosed. The final phase of the development will include the completion of all 173 bedrooms and repairing the exterior of the building.

Kenwright added: "When we gained ownership of this iconic building it was in a dire state with tonnes of debris and significant structural issues to contend with. It had been served with a prohibition notice which meant that the vast majority of the building was deemed too dangerous to enter, so we're incredibly excited to be at a stage where we can see the finish line in our project to restore this historic building to its rightful place as a jewel in the crown of the Cardiff's heritage.

"Cardiff Council has been highly supportive throughout the challenges we have faced in restoring the Coal Exchange and we are immensely grateful for the finance they have provided to help finalise the project.

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