Stormont’s department has been urged to reinstate heritage restoration grants after masonry began to fall off Belfast’s Scottish Mutual, the proposed site for a George Best-style hotel.
Pieces of masonry began to fall from a listed building south of Donegal Square on Tuesday, forcing police to set up a cordon to protect people from falling debris.
Chris McCracken of Linen Quarter BID, which aims to make the area behind City Hall more business-friendly, said he believes the building will now become a thriving hotel unless a grant awarded under the Department of Community Affairs program was withdrawn in 2014 year. This move thwarted the plans of its then owners to turn it into a hotel.
Tullymore House, owned by the Hill family and now owned by the Galgorm Collection, then sold the building to Signature Living in Liverpool, who conceived the project to turn it into a George Best-style hotel.
Signature Living went into management in 2020 and the building has been falling into disrepair ever since.
Last week, a High Court judge ruled that the building’s administrators could put it up for sale. Madam Justice McBride’s ruling means bedroom investors in the future hotel will lose up to £4 million.
Investors, mostly members of the public, poured money into the project, expecting to earn interest once the doors open. But repeated planning delays and financial difficulties at Signature Living meant the project was never completed.
Mr. McCracken said he believes the restoration of the grant will help facilitate the process of selling the building and its successful restoration.
A business owner in nearby James Street South told the Belfast Telegraph: “In one night huge, I mean huge, boulders fell on Bedford Street. The police have cordoned off the footpath, but it looks pretty intimidating.”
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: “Our construction supervision team has been on site since early morning assessing it in accordance with our hazardous structures legislation. We are working with the police and the owner to secure the building.”
The PSNI stated: “Police have closed part of the sidewalk in the Bedford Street area of Belfast city center due to masonry falling from a building. Pedestrians are advised to exercise caution if they are in the area.”
Kroll, the business consulting firm appointed as the administrator of Signature Living, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr McCracken said: “I have just returned from a study tour with the Royal Society of Ulster Architects in Madrid and they really care about their historic architecture. We’re not that good at taking care of our heritage buildings, especially something like the Scottish Mutual Building.
“In fact, the whole of Donegal Square is one of the highest points in Belfast. But one problem was that when the Hill family had property, they relied on a £0.5 million grant for their business case.
“Restoring a historic building is very expensive, and if we really want to take care of our heritage, the government should reconsider this heritage grant.
“If the grant had not been withdrawn, this building would now have a five-star hotel managed by the Galgorm Collection, which would be very good for Belfast. If we had a legacy grant again, it would make a future sale much more attractive.”
The Department of Communities, in charge of historic buildings, was asked for comment.
The Galgorm Collection did not respond to a question whether it was considering buying the building.