Developer plans to convert ex-Merseytravel HQ into aparthotel

MIDDLE England Developments, the student properties developer currently converting a number of sites in Liverpool, has exchanged contracts to buy the former Merseytravel buildings at Hatton Gardens for £1.8m.

The company, which is run by Nigel Russell, has already submitted plans to convert the building into a five-star aparthotel containing 51 serviced apartments which will be sold to investors under a similar model to its student properties.

The aparthotel will have a manager for the property,but also a general manager to offer guests a concierge-style service. The ground floor of the building will contain an entrance lobby and reception area with a bar within the central atrium, as well as six apartments.

At lower ground floor level, three more apartments will be built alongside a restaurant and management accommodation. In total, the building will have five three-bed, 43 two-bed and three one-bed apartments.

Mr Russell told that the aparthotel, which will be known as the Richmond, will be brought forward by KDP architects, with whom the firm has worked on other schemes including the conversion of a former warehouse in Gradwell St and a paper mill at Henry St – both of which are being converted into student properties.

A decision on whether the project will be granted planning permission is due to be taken by the council’s planning committee in August.

“We want it to look really bespoke. We’re going really high end on the finishes,” he said.

Mr Russell has bought the building following Merseytravel’s recent move to the Mann Island scheme on Liverpool’s waterfront. He said that he wanted to diversify away from the core student portfolio, where he has brought some 770 homes onto the market in the past two and-a-half years. He added that all of these had been pre-sold to investors, and that the bulk of them – including schemes at St Andrews’ Place on Rodney St and the former fire station opposite the new Hatton Gardens hotel – will be complete by the start of the new academic year.

The St Andrews Place scheme is due to be topped out next week, with a concrete pour on the glass-domed sixth floor.

In December, the Liverpool Echo reported that Liverpool Council had been asked to look into whether Mr Russell’s management company, Penlake, should be given a licence to run homes of multiple occupancy due to the fact that he had a prior conviction in the US for passport fraud and tax evasion.

However, it added that the council had been aware of Mr Russell’s past, which has not proved to be a barrier to the council completing subsequent transactions with his business.

The St Andrew’s Place development is taking place in the former St Andrew’s Church building – a Grade II*-listed Scottish Presbytarian church designed by architect Sir John Foster which was sold by the council  to Middle England Developments for £1 in November last year.

The council had only bought the building in 2008 following a £100,000 legal battle as it fell into disrepair and it had spent £150,000 on emergency repairs since.

“People have said that we’ve been given the asset for £1, but it wasn’t an asset it was a liability,” said Mr Russell. “It was costing the council thousands to maintain.

“We’ve spent £1.6m rebuilding the outside and inside the towers were crumbling. It’s cost us £250,000 to get enough quality stone to rebuild them.”

Once complete, the property will contain more than 100 rooms and an adjoining former Sunday school building will be converted into a restaurant known as Mackenzie’s – after an engineer who, according to local legend, is said to be buried upright in a nearby pyramid-shaped tomb.

Mr Russell’s firm has also recently bought a building further along Rodney St, No. 9, which it plans to convert into a new head office.

“We’ve got so many people dotted over the city I thought it would be nice to bring them all into one location,” he added.

The firm has also recently completed the redevelopment of the Candia and Crete towers at Everton in north Liverpool and the Victoria Court student scheme in Liverpool.