One of Belfast’s best-loved historic buildings could form part of the city’s new future a developer helping to promote Northern Ireland at a major investment conference has claimed.
With work underway on his major project the George Best Hotel at an historic site in the city centre, Lawrence Kenwright told an audience of investors, developers and occupiers at the MIPIM international property investment conference in Cannes of his ambitions to restore the Floral Hall, the “gem in Belfast’s social and cultural history to its former glory”.
Mr Kenwright is part of a delegation attending the event which brings together investors and developers from all over the world
With his pro-Belfast credentials clearly established, he is also behind another project to restore and redevelop the former Crumlin Road Courthouse as a hotel, Mr Kenwright expressed his hope to acquire the hall and restore it for use as “a leading entertainment, conference and wedding venue” in the city.
Sited within the grounds of Belfast Zoo, the hall was built in the mid-1930s and was one of Belfast’s foremost entertainment venues for over 35 years – both as a dance hall, and later as a venue for bands such as Pink Floyd and roller discos.
Closed since the 1970s, it remains in the ownership of the city council and has fallen into poor condition despite the attempts of supporters to have it preseved.
It is estimated that an investment of around £5million would be required to restore it to a useable state.
“Today at MIPIM, I am publicly stating my desire to acquire the Floral Hall from Belfast City Council and to invest in bringing it back to use as a unique venue for future generations to enjoy in the way that their parents, grandparents and even great-parents did for so many years in its heyday.
“This is what [my firm] Signature Living does best – sympathetically restoring precious, heritage buildings and simply acting as their custodian, once again giving them a place in culture and tourism for the enjoyment of local people and tourists.”
The announcement by the Liverpool based business man marks the start of three days of events and meetings carried out by more than 35 organisations which are representing Belfast in Cannes this week.
The trip has been made possible with record financial support of over £300,000 – 80% of which has come from private sector sponsors.
The prinicipal aim is to alert investors to potential opportunities and generate interest in projects such as the new transport hub planned around the current Great Victoria Street rail station and major commercial developments such as the former Sirocco site on the other side of the river from the Waterfront.
Mr Kenwright, who has now also unveiled plans for the new Waring Hotel in Waring Street in the city centre, first encountered Belfast for himself at MIPIM in 2016 - the first year the city took part .
Since then, he has committing to investing up to £100m in the city, creating over 400 jobs.
It may be a while before the Floral Hall joins his portfolio, however, as Gerry Millar, director of property and projects at Belfast City Council outlined.
“At this stage we have not entered into formal discussions about the Floral Hall with any investor or developer and disposal of this Council-owned asset would be strictly subject to due process first,” he said.
“However, the Council is keen to see Floral Hall restored and is open to receiving proposals from any party interested in exploring this opportunity further,” he added.