A £25m plan to convert a historic former department store building in the heart of Liverpool city centre has been given the go-ahead.
For the last four years, the former George Henry Lee building on Basnett Street has stood vacant after Rapid Hardware closed its doors for the final time. Now, it is hoped contractors could begin work almost immediately after proposals to convert the site into a 175-bed hotel and casino have been signed off.
Members of Liverpool Council’s planning committee gave their assent to the plans at a meeting at the Town Hall on Tuesday morning.
Back in 2019, the city council approved a similar application subject to the signing of a legal agreement. As that has now expired, the building has been mostly empty since the business left. Applicant Richard Gee told the committee how the plans would include a sky bar and restaurant on site, with developers Landlab transforming the historic former department store into a designer hotel under the Accor Mama Shelter brand, making it the first of its kind outside London.
Mr Gee said it would represent “urban cool” with Mama Shelter designing “hotels around the ethos of the city selected.” The building “needs to be put back into good and sustainable use,” he added.
A design and access statement said despite the site once being a “very grand” department store, the interior of the building is currently in a very poor condition having gone through what is described as “a number of ad-hoc alterations, piecemeal demolitions and extensions here and there.” Among the other additions proposed include a games bar, sports bar, karaoke booths, cinema screens and a gym across nine floors.
George Henry Lee opened his first shop in Basnett Street in 1853 and the business eventually grew into one of the north’s top department stores, with a striking building to match. It was bought by John Lewis in 1940.
In the 1960s the existing store was merged with the Bon Marche store next door, which faced onto Church Street. In 2002, the old George Henry Lee name was dropped and the store became John Lewis.
In just six years, John Lewis left for a new home in Liverpool ONE. The old Bon Marche building became a TK Maxx, while the original George Henry Lee building was taken over by Rapid Hardware.
Mr Gee said contractors were “standing by” to strip out the building upon approval being granted, with 200 jobs to be supported during the construction phase. A further 150 roles could be created upon completion, he said.
The applicant said Mama Shelter – which signed a deal to bring the brand to the city in June – would bring “fun, sassiness, I’ve heard sexiness said” with facilities “not just for rich guests.” A slide from Jeremie Trigano, co-founder of the brand, shown to the committee said: “We can’t want to start working on this amazing project.
“As a fan of the Beatles, my dad is super excited to put some of their magic into Mamas. We think this property could be our best yet.”
Councillors unanimously agreed to back the plans when put to a vote.