The hotel developer Cecil Doherty said it was an exciting moment for Ebrington Leisure Holdings Ltd. which has been working on the Ebrington Hotel and Spa project since 2015.
It’s expected the overall investment of £15m across a 17 month build programme will bring the hotel ‘live’ by June 2023. It will create 120 jobs between construction and full-time staff and deliver Derry’s first residential spa hotel, complementing the existing tourism accommodation offering in the city.
Marking the milestone yesterday Mr. Doherty told the ‘Journal’: “I first went over to Ebrington in July 2015 to start this process and it’s been an absolutely trojan effort to get it to this point. We are there now. We’re excited about it. The entire funding package is in place.”
Mr. Doherty acknowledged that the ambitious plans came close to being derailed on a number of occasions during what have been a difficult number of years. But perseverance has paid off.
“We went through Brexit. We went through COVID. There were serious obstacles along the way. We had to work with heritage people and with scheduled monuments because there are protected walls at Ebrington and they run at our boundaries. There was a lot of moving parts behind the scenes that had to be dealt with and you had to have patience and resilience to keep going and we’ve done it.”
When the facility opens it will sustain 80 new full-time equivalent jobs and contribute over £2m in annual salaries.
Said Mr. Doherty: “We’re building 91 rooms to star with, a bar, a restaurant, a wedding centre. We are putting in a residential spa. We are going to put in conference facilities and we have on-site parking which is important. Our expected standard is a 4-star luxury, quality hotel in the city.”
First Minister Paul Givan, who took a tour of Ebrington before chairing a meeting of the Executive from Derry, said: “As work begins on the Ebrington Hotel, I’m pleased to mark another step forward, not just for the Ebrington site, but for Londonderry itself.
“It continues to grow as a vibrant, modern city which is looking to the future with confidence – and there is a real sense of that optimism here today.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The commencement of construction on the Ebrington Hotel is a milestone day for Derry. This major investment will create jobs both during the construction phase, and after the hotel has opened.”
Mr. Doherty has a wealth of experience in the hospitality sector having once managed Ballyliffin Golf Club - an institution on the north west tourist trail.
He told the ‘Journal’ he believes Derry can tap into the international golf tourism market through the new Ebrington Hotel and Spa.
“In a previous life I was involved with Ballyliffin Golf Club and travelled the world extensively for them so I retain a lot of those contacts and, yes, the golf market will be important to us,” he said.
Mr. Doherty also formerly managed the Ballyliffin Lodge and Spa and noted that the new Ebrington premises will be the first residential spa in the city - another untapped market.
“It is interesting there is no residential spa in Derry city. We are looking at that gap and seeing that there is an opportinity to provide something as a lovely facility in the city.”
He added that there will be a considerable marketing war chest to promote the new hotel nationally and internationally.
“We are going to engage in a very far-reaching marketing programme with a budget of £250,000 per year in terms of markerting alone to promote it.
“For us it’s important to remember it is not our intention to replace existing business in Derry. We want to generate new tourist footfall.”
Mr. Doherty believes the iconic clock tower site is unequalled as a location for a hotel.
“If you go up to the city cemetery and are looking over you see that clock tower. It has a kind of dramatic impact on the cityscape. It’s a fabulous site.”
The £15m development includes £7.25m through the NI Investment Fund and £1.75m from Invest NI but Mr. Doherty pointed to the considerable level of private investment from people local to the area.
“This investment and the people behind it are all within a 20 mile radius of the city willing to support it.
“We are excited and we are looking forward to it. We see it as a real complement to the accommodation stock in the city,” he said.
The project will transform five buildings at Ebrington, including the clock tower. While, initially 91 beds are being constructed, the project will ultimately yield a 152 bed 4-star hotel with spa and leisure facilities.
First Minister Paul Givan said: “I applaud the developers of the Ebrington Hotel for their investment in the city, and indeed everyone playing a role in creating a better tomorrow.
“While acknowledging the financial investment, it’s important to recognise the individuals and organisations which have contributed in so many ways with their time, creativity and energy.”
The First Minister said it was one of a number of exciting developments at the landmark former military and naval base.
“Alongside the Ebrington Hotel, we saw the development of Grade A office space and a hub for start-up businesses.
“As today’s ideas become tomorrow’s opportunities, I will be watching with interest as potential turns into reality for Londonderry.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “We have made great progress in the development of the Ebrington site and, together with the Grade A Office space due to be completed soon, this new hotel will bring a renewed vibrancy and a real boost to the regional economy.
“I offer my congratulations to the developers and all who have played a part in getting us to this point.
“This latest good news story marks another step forward in our vision to regenerate the North West region.
“We are building on the opportunities created by investments such as the £250million Derry and Strabane City Deal, the new Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee, and the transformative projects taking place as part of our Urban Villages initiative.”
The £100m Investment Fund, established by the Department of Finance and the Strategic Investment Board and managed by CBRE, is providing loan funding to support the development.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: “I’m pleased the Investment Fund established by my Department has been able to support this project with a £7.25 million loan.
“This project will further develop Ebrington and create jobs in the North West.”
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “We continue to see growth in tourism, both leisure and business, across NI.
“The development of quality hotels is important to ensuring we are able to meet growing demand and I am glad that Invest NI has been able to support this project to build a new 4-star hotel.
“As well as strengthening the tourism infrastructure in the area, this project will also support the creation of new jobs, and is expected to lead to 80 new full-time equivalent jobs once the hotel opens. This will contribute over £2m into the local economy through annual salaries.”
Mr. Doherty said: “The hotel is set to open in June 2023. We are excited for its future specifically and the Ebrington site overall with our creation of 120 jobs locally along with the unique opportunity to repurpose and revitalise iconic historically significant buildings. Ebrington’s future is very bright.
“The company acknowledges and is deeply appreciate of the significant financial support from Invest NI along with the wholehearted professional support from The Executive Office/Strategic Investment Board (SIB), our own design team and all related statutory bodies who have collectively worked to make this happen.
“We look forward to showcasing our vision to the public in 2023.”
Herbin Duffield, Associate Director, Investment Advisory, CBRE commented: “This is a significant loan as it represents the first development the Fund has supported in Derry/Londonderry.
“The project will provide vital employment opportunities in the area and aligns with the Fund’s long-term objectives to invest in the sustainable transformation of Northern Ireland.”
The First Minister and deputy First Minister also officially opened AMP, a new and exciting start-up business hub located on the site.
AMP make available office and desk space for start-up companies and provide professional business development advice and guidance along with business coaching and mentoring services.
Ryan Williams, director in AMP said: “We are delighted that the Ministers formally opened the AMP today as Derry’s first privately funded growth incubator.
“We believe the project represents a new ecology for Tech entrepreneurs in the city.”