The Subplot | Bliss Hotel Southport’s demise, John Lewis BTR, Christmas delays
- Jayne Dowle investigates the reasons behind Bliss Hotels’ administration in Southport
- Elevator pitch: your weekly rundown of who and what is going up, and who is heading the other way
SOUTHPORT STUCK IN A STORM
When Daniel Broch, founder of the Everyman chain of cinemas, brought millennial-friendly chutzpah to his rebrand of the 133-bed former Ramada Plaza Hotel in Southport in 2016, the London-born entrepreneur was clearly attempting to capitalise on a yawning gap in the North West coastal accommodation market.
You’ve got to hand it to the lad for trying.
Promising to bring back the glam-luxe vibe to a seaside town last fashionable (let’s be honest) in the 1930s, Broch and Robert Agsteribbe, his business partner in Bliss Investment Partners, undertook a £20m refurbishment of the hotel. They brought in more hanging plants than Babylon, squishy velvet sofas, and bangin’ DJ nights.
BIP went on to acquire the head lease for Southport’s entire Waterfront development and adjacent theatre, now earmarked for redevelopment into the £75m Marine Lake Events Centre.
Broch told an interviewer in September 2019: “This [acquiring the Waterfront development and theatre] allowed us to take a fragmented offering and start to create a cohesive and bespoke leisure experience for a new type of customer – revolving around fashion, art, film and music.”
The regular Ramada crowd, aghast that they were expected to forgo their lunchtime faves in favour of ‘relaxed dining’ with waiting staff actively encouraged to befriend them – private members’ club style – didn’t know what to make of it if some of the early Tripadvisor reviews were anything to go by.
And now, it seems, six years later, neither did enough of the ‘fashion, art, film and music’ crowd to confidently turn Bliss Hotel into Southport’s cheeky Northern retort to Soho Farmhouse. Waterfront Southport Properties Ltd, along with subsidiary Waterfront Hotels (Southport) Ltd, trading as Bliss Hotel Southport, has collapsed into administration, owing more than £18m to creditors. James Cowper Kreston has been appointed as administrator.
The pandemic didn’t help, obviously. Originally, Bliss Hotel Southport was intended as the first of a ‘mini chain’ of approximately 10 venues by 2026.
But there are those who say (privately) that Broch, despite starting his roll out of 38 Everyman cinemas at city centre retail scheme Trinity Leeds in 2013, didn’t really ‘get’ the North. And his company spent far too money much discovering this.
The intention to create – as he told reporters in 2016 – “a magical space which, with an amazing programme of events and entertainment, will be somewhere you can escape to whether you’re reclining on a deck chair in the sun or snuggled by the fire pit on a crisp winter evening”, was admirable. But in the cold light of a chilly Southport economic climate, it hasn’t worked.
Also, it’s a massive site to keep profitable. As well as all those bedrooms, reception, lounge, bar, restaurant, function suites, and a 120-space basement car park, the sale will also include a 50,000 sq ft development opportunity adjacent to the hotel with potential for a variety of alternative uses, subject to the necessary consents. In total, the hotel, held on a long leasehold with 235 years unexpired, and the development site, extend to two acres.
The theatre, leased to Bliss Space (Southport) Ltd, went bust in May 2020, with the pandemic held to blame.
Dead in the water?
Sefton Council is praying for someone to give this cornerstone hotel the kiss of life. Its prow-like presence adjacent to Marine Parade and Southport Pier is key to the new MLEC.
MLEC is likely to be operated by ASM Global, a US-based global venue management business, which the council has named as its preferred partner. This would see a 1,200-seater events space built to replace the theatre and convention centre.
The reported £75m budget for this scheme is thought to include £37.5m secured from the government’s Town Deal (one of the largest awarded nationally) and a further £2.3m from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.
The hotel is being marketed by Savills.
Interested parties have until tomorrow to submit a bid.
The administrators are continuing to trade the business as a going concern, with a promise that all bookings for accommodation and functions will be honoured. Whilst Bliss Hotel still has its own website, it’s now appearing on Booking.com and Tripadvisor as ‘Waterfront Southport Hotel’.
So if you’ve already paid a reported £740 for a double room (believed to be up to three times the usual weekend rate) to stay here for the Eurovision weekend in Liverpool next May, you won’t need a lifebelt. As yet.
Going up, or going down? This week’s movers
Can John Lewis switch from retail to resi? And more hotel woes.
Shirts, socks, ties, hats, underwear… and apartments?
A £500m deal with investment giant Abrdn sees the John Lewis Partnership aiming high, with ambitious plans to become a major landlord owning a build-to-rent portfolio of 10,000 homes.
One-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are to be fitted out with John Lewis furniture. Obviously no-one asked Carrie Johnson, who famously ousted Theresa May’s ‘never knowingly undersold’ sofas from Downing Street in her £112,549 makeover, to lend an interior design hand.
Nina Bhatia, JLP’s executive director for strategy and commercial development, says the new homes plan were part of a broader strategic change.
“Our partnership with Abrdn is a major milestone in our ambition to create much-needed quality residential housing in our communities.
“Our residents can expect homes furnished by John Lewis with first-rate service and facilities.”
Initial plans are linked to retail sites owned by the company in London and Reading. But there’s excitement in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, where the flagship city centre John Lewis store on Cambridge Street closed last year.
Purchased by Sheffield City Council before it shut, the grade two-listed building is now being sold on a 250-year lease by the council, with a winning developer expected to be announced next year.
Will JLP be tempted to buy it back, setting those revolving doors in motion once more?
National Park’s first Premier Inn
In other hotel news, the Lake District National Park’s first Premier Inn, built amid great local controversy on the former site of the Ravensfield Residential Home on High Hill in Keswick, Cumbria, won’t be hanging up the tinsel in time for Christmas, after all – despite promises as recently as October that all was set for a festive launch.
An announcement on the company’s website puts the £6m hotel’s opening back to January.
A Premier Inn spokesman said that the Christmas opening date had only ever been for “guidance” purposes, adding: “We have a fantastic team recruited and we’re looking forward to the hotel playing a long and positive role in Keswick.”
Let’s hope the spirit of Christmas bonhomie stretches into the New Year then. When the Whitbread-owned hotel chain announced it was hoping to build the 71-bedroomed ‘Keswick Premier Inn’ less than 10 minutes’ drive from Derwentwater, a ‘Stop Premier Inn coming to Keswick’ petition, backed by Keswick Town Council, raised more than 3,000 signatures.
Complaints included the impact on local heritage, and too much pressure on infrastructure and car-parking.
Planning permission was granted by the Lake District National Park Authority in October 2020.
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