Belfast’s Custom House’s new owner to enhance period details in facelift

Published on 7th November 2020

Belfast’s listed Custom House building is to be refurbished after it was sold to a Northern Ireland property investment company.

While currently occupied by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the English property management company Mapeley took ownership of the building in 2001.

Mapeley has now sold it for an undisclosed sum to Straidorn Properties, a property investment company belonging to local businessman Neil McKibbin and his family.

Custom House was designed by architect Sir Charles Lanyon and built in the 1850s.

The grade B listed building has a floor space of 58,000 sq ft, mainly used as offices.

Straidorn said it would refurbish and modernise Custom House when HMRC vacates the property next year.

The purchase of the building for office space comes as the sector faces the prospect of a growing number of empty offices if the habit of working from home, which emerged during the pandemic, takes hold.

Straidorn Properties said it wanted “to preserve and enhance the building’s heritage features during any renovations”.

Mr McKibbin added: “We are delighted to have had the opportunity to buy one of Belfast’s grandest buildings and bring it back into local ownership.

“Custom House is of huge historic and strategic importance to the city. For our business, this is a long-term investment which demonstrates our confidence not just in the future of Belfast’s office market, but in the city itself. We invest in projects we can identify with and where we know we can add value.

“Despite the current economic climate, Belfast is still a very attractive location for inward investment. We believe it will continue to attract global occupiers who will contribute to the ongoing growth and development of the city.”

The building has been renovated throughout its history but retains key period features such as an original staircase and decorative carvings, including figures symbolising Neptune and Mercury.

Mr McKibbin said he hoped that Straidorn could work with other stakeholders to link up nearby parts of the city, such as the Cathedral Quarter and City Quays, and add to the “overall vibrancy” of Belfast.

The company previously invested money in transforming Flax House on Adelaide Street, a former linen mill that lay unoccupied for more than 30 years, into grade A office space.

Victoria House on Gloucester Street also received significant investment through Mr McKibbin and his business partner Wayne Sullivan’s holdings in the recruitment company Vanrath.

Custom House sits on Custom House Square, which has been refurbished in recent years and become a major venue for leisure events and concerts.

Straidorn was advised by the commercial property agency Riddell McKibbin in the purchase of the building.

This newspaper revealed in September that a buyer had been secured for the property.

Speaking at the time, Donal MacRandal, the president of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, said he hoped the building would have an outward-looking role in future.

“Custom House is an asset to Belfast and it would be fantastic to see it have a more public role in the city,” he added.

“As we think more about sustainability, the opportunity of our historic buildings becomes clear.

“With sensitive adaptations these buildings can serve many more generations.”

Source: Belfast Telegraph