Entrepreneur’s ambitious plans to inject life into Preston

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A prominent property developer and hotelier has outlined ambitious plans to inject new life into Preston city centre.

Lawrence Kenwright says new hotels and a flagship bar could “set alight” the city’s night-time economy - and events space is something Preston “desperately needs”.

Signature Living, his Liverpool-based firm, is in the process of converting Preston’s historic post office building into the Harris Hotel.

Now his team is already scoping out possible locations for another hotel and an outlet of the famous Alma de Cuba bar, one of Liverpool’s most popular nightspots known for its flamboyant latin American dancers and upmarket decor.

He told the Lancashire Post: “In my opinion, Alma de Cuba is the best bar in the UK, it’s a win-win for Preston.”

Mr Kenwright’s company has grown to become one of the region’s most popular hotel and entertainment venue chains that includes Liverpool’s iconic Shankly Hotel.

It’s a ‘build it and they will come’ scenario, that’s the way it is.

With the Harris Hotel on schedule for a grand opening later this year, he explained the ambition is there to create a portfolio of properties in the city, following the Liverpool blueprint.

He said: “Liverpool is now a major tourist attraction, we’ve gone from one bedroom to 2,000 beds over the last 10 years and that’s because we’ve generated interest and intrigue in the city.

“We haven’t relied upon Liverpool to do that, we’ve done our job and done it well.

“The plan is to do the same thing in Preston, you clearly have some work to be done on the night-time economy, I think hotels and a branch of Alma de Cuba coming in will absolutely set that alight.”

The hotelier says the plans are at an early stage but agreed they could “absolutely” act as a catalyst for a boom in city entertainment and leisure facilities.

He said: “These are ideas and just thoughts, we’re actually doing the analysis now to see whether it works. All we can say is this is what we’d like to do if we had the opportunity.

“(But) all of a sudden you’ve got something to talk about, we’ve got something to talk about and the guests to the city will be able to take photos and share on social media platforms.

“As we know, the best way to get a message out is peer to peer, if there’s nothing going on, there are no photos, no-one is going to talk about it and no-one is ever going to visit.

“It’s a ‘build it and they will come’ scenario, that’s the way it is.”

Hotel to open later this year

The redevelopment of the Grade II listed former post office on Preston’s Flag Market was announced last year.

The 65-room boutique hotel is on schedule to open later in 2018. Mr Kenwright said: “It’s all on plan, we’re very happy, it’s well on the way.”

According to the submitted plans, the building will also have a spa with pool, treatment rooms and saunas, a 170 cover licensed restaurant/bar and a wedding function space.

The Post Office building which was opened in 1903 and closed in 2005.

Signature Living has earmarked more than £300m worth of hotel leisure and development projects over the next three years, with development projects in Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester and Belfast as well as Preston.

Business leaders updated on City Deal offering

Mr Kenwright featured alongside Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire local authority bosses at a business Invest in Central Lancashire event held at Deepdale.

Organised by Place North West, provided an opportunity for business leaders to get an update on City Deal.

Lorraine Norris, chief executive at Preston City Council, said: “The event was aimed at scene setting and getting people together to drive the city and the region forward.

“City Deal is more than just roads and houses – it’s also about jobs, skills and education, which are just as essential to develop growth.

“The panel I sat on spoke about how important partnership working is. How successful we’ve been so far in delivery is because we’ve worked together.

“We also talked about what happens next. Game changing developments will be improvements at Preston railway station, a new bridge over the River Ribble, and an extended reach of what City Deal can offer to other neighbouring areas.

“Our ultimate aim is to improve Lancashire as a whole – a great place to live, invest, work and visit.”

Jim Carter, chairman of the City Deal and a Lancashire Enterprise Partnership board director, said: “This event gave everyone involved in delivering this transformational £434m programme an opportunity to update local businesses and partners on the amazing progress we’ve made in just three years.

“But more importantly, this conference gave the City Deal partnership a platform to directly engage with developers, investors and employers and highlight the ambition and appetite for growth which we all share for central Lancashire.

“With developments like Lancashire Central now coming forward, the potential is truly phenomenal.”