A hotel that has been at the heart of the East Belfast community for 60 years has closed with the loss of 45 jobs.
Guests at the Park Avenue Hotel on Holywood Road have lamented the loss of the venue, which was taken over last year by the Beannchor Group, owners of the Merchant Hotel.
As well as hosting weddings and other family celebrations, it was a venue for everything from political party conferences to bodybuilding competitions.
Beannchor announced plans to shut down the site in March, but uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic hastened its demise.
A former customer recalled her stay at the hotel.
“We spent our wedding night there in 1977 and then returned for our 25th wedding anniversary in 2002 and hoped we would have our 50th there. Good memories, ”she wrote online.
Beannchor filed a proposed Notice of Application earlier this year for a potential redevelopment of the site.
The hotel was once owned by Billy Stephens, a former manager of the Glentoran Football Club.
Over the decades, it has hosted annual celebrations and dinners at Glentoran, as well as political shindigs.
It has hosted years of DUP party conferences, seeing scenes of glee when Arlene Foster was announced as party leader there in 2015.
But he also welcomed the end of political travel, including Mike Nesbitt’s resignation speech when he stepped down as Unionist leader of Ulster in 2017.
It also hosted the Alliance Party’s annual conference.
The current building replaced an older hotel that burned down in 1964.
A spokesperson for the Beannchor group said the site would not reopen after “a prolonged period of financial uncertainty which has been exacerbated by the circumstances of Covid-19”.
The cancellation of tour bookings and events had left the company, which had entered into a voluntary company deal – a sort of insolvency – at the end of July, in an “unsustainable” business position, a added the spokesperson.
“We are seriously disappointed with the situation we have come to and the impact it has had on staff,” said Beannchor.
“Despite a number of significant changes in hotel operations prior to Covid-19, the recent devastating impact on the tourism industry has been too great to continue to create a viable hotel there.
“Our intention to advance a planning request for the eventual development of new homes on Park Avenue Hotel lands remains intact.
“The closure of the hotel underlines that it is no longer sustainable for the property to continue to be a hotel asset.
“It is therefore important that alternative uses are explored for the site. ”
The local tourism industry has been hit hard by Covid-19 and the associated lockdown.
Last week, the Hospitality Federation said it expected annual tourism revenues to reach £ 500million, half of the £ 1bn from the previous year.
Hotels reopened in early July but saw occupancy rates of just 21.4% in the first weeks of negotiation after the lockout was lifted.