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£80m scheme for four hotels to create 350 jobs in Belfast, says developer

Plans include 150-bed revamp for Crumlin Road courthouse

Lawrence Kenwright

A Liverpool developer says his four new hotel projects for Belfast – including the Crumlin Road courthouse as part of an overall £80m investment – will create 350 jobs, as he moves to buy two new city centre buildings, it can be revealed.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Lawrence Kenwright says he will add 500 new hotel bedrooms to Belfast. That includes a 150-bedroom scheme to revamp the Crumlin Road courthouse.

Mr Kenwright, who runs his firm Signature Living, is also looking at locations for two of the hotels in the Waring Street area of the city – one of which will be a 200-bedroom George Best themed hotel – and has purchased the Scottish Mutual Building for more than £6m.

“Belfast is at the crest of a wave of what is about to come. You have to build beds, because it’s coming,” he said.

The Scottish Mutual will be turned into an 80-bedroom five-star hotel.

Mr Kenwright started off in business opening a range of retail stores before losing it all in the property crash.

And as for the George Best hotel, Mr Kenwright says two sites in the Waring Street area of the city are possibilities.

The developer said it’s set to be a “huge” development of around 200 bedrooms.

He first looked at investing in Belfast two years ago and said he fell in love with the derelict Crumlin Road courthouse in the north of the city. He’s now investing £25m in its refurbishment.

“I know it’s a mile outside the city centre; I know it’s tough and difficult, and has no roof on it, but if you look past the dereliction and look at the stories within it, it’s off the scale,” he said.

“I would argue it’s the most endangered building of importance in Europe.

“We are really aware of the history of the building and want to use the incredible history and the individual stories about the courthouse to create the interest, drive the footfall and attract people to the Crumlin Road area of the city.

“We will be running a number of open days up at Crumlin Road Gaol for local people to come and tell us their story of the courthouse and the events that took place there.”

The courthouse was designed by Charles Lanyon in 1850.

In more recent times, it’s played host to some of the most high-profile cases of the Troubles, including the trial of the Shankill Butchers. It was closed in 1998 and suffered serious fire damage in 2009.

Mr Kenwright said he will also be taking on an historian to “write the stories into a potted history to give a true flavour of this building’s incredible past”.

“It is important to note we are just as interested in the history and stories which relate back to the building’s first 50 years, when Belfast was at its industrial peak and the largest city in Ireland, as we are in the 50 years before its closure in 1998.”

by John Mulgrew

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