A LANDMARK Belfast building is not closing, its owners have said — despite a Northern Ireland Office spokesperson having previously said that it was shutting.
Windsor House, which was the tallest building in Ireland until the construction of the Obel Tower last year, has been central to the Belfast skyline since 1974.
The office block, which is about 120,000 square feet, was bought at the height of the property boom in 2007 with a view to converting it into apartments.
However, earlier this year that company, Lauderdale Properties Limited, entered administration after an action brought by Bank of Ireland over a loan which has transferred to the Republic of Ireland’s “bad bank”, the National Assets Recovery Agency (NAMA).
Two weeks ago, the News Letter revealed that British diplomats had moved out of the building, which they had shared with Irish government officials as part of the British-Irish Joint Secretariat.
The NIO played down the significance of the move and a spokeswoman said that they were merely leaving because the building was closing.
However, that is not the case.
Yesterday, McConnell Chartered Surveyors Ltd, which has managed the building since its construction and is now working on behalf of the administrator, said that the NIO statement had given some tenants “considerable anxiety”.
Director Rory McConnell said that it was “absolutely not the case” that the building was closing.
“Windsor House is open for business. We have quite a number of tenants in the building; we are advertising the vacant space in the building and would be delighted to welcome new tenants,” he said.
“We are talking to all the existing tenants about renewing their leases or at least continuing in occupation of the building when their leases do come up.”
Mr McConnell said that the current squeeze on government spending was having a knock-on impact on the commercial rented sector.
“It makes it very difficult — government has never been renowned for paying high rentals; in fact there are some who would say that government have been responsible for suppressing the rental market in Belfast over the years.
“When the cutbacks started to bite, we have situations where government are looking for reduced rentals when their leases come up or in fact moving out completely and Windsor House has been a casualty in both senses.
“We’ve had some government departments stay on at lesser rents than they were paying — and we’re delighted to keep them — and we’ve also had quite a lot of government departments move out.
“We’ve lost a further three floors with the pensions division moving to Londonderry and it is hurting right across the board in the private sector.”
In a statement last night, the NIO said: “In line with the current UK Government policy to move government offices away from commercial buildings to state-owned premises, a decision was taken to re-locate the British side of the Secretariat to the NIO premises in Stormont House.
“The British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat continues its work as an international body with regular meetings and engagements. Both governments continue to value and maintain the good relations built up over many years.
“The recently issued joint statement by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach on 12 March following their summit meeting in Downing Street demonstrates the strength of those relationships and the continued focus on areas of mutual interest.”