Cardiff hotel campaigners 'sceptical' over plans for site

The Exchange Hotel Image copyright Chris Sampson
Image caption The 173-bed Exchange Hotel opened in 2017

An investment syndicate and a former councillor hope to reopen Cardiff's historic Coal Exchange as a hotel after the company which owned it collapsed.

The stakeholders want to get the business up and running again after Signature Living Coal Exchange was put into liquidation, owing about £25m.

The Grade II*-listed building reopened as the Exchange Hotel in 2017 after a £40m renovation.

Heritage campaigners said they were "sceptical" about the plans.

Built in 1883, the Coal Exchange was once where the world price of coal was set and where it is claimed the first £1m cheque was signed.

Former Cardiff councillor Ashley Govier, who runs a hotel services company which supplied staff to the Exchange, has applied to renew its alcohol and live events licence.

The new application was submitted by Eden Grove Properties Limited, another of Mr Govier's companies.

Mr Govier said he was paying salaries of 61 hotel staff and hoped to secure their jobs.

"We stepped in to keep the staff pool on while we try to get the hotel open again. Our intention is to save as many staff as possible," he said.

Mr Govier is working with Coal Exchange Hotel LLP, a syndicate of about 30 investors who hold a 999-year ground lease on most of the communal areas of the Coal Exchange and about 60 bedrooms.

The remaining bedrooms at the hotel are leased by individual investors, who were promised quarterly dividends as a return on their investments.

Image caption The trading floor of the Coal Exchange at its peak

Philip Ingman, who manages the syndicate, said it had invested more than £15m to fund the first phase of converting the building into a hotel.

"Our investors' aim is of course to get the works finished and prepare the hotel to open again," he said.

Another stakeholder is businessman Derek Watts, whose company Albendan Ltd is one of the largest creditors of the collapsed company, with a debt of about £10m.

Cardiff Council said the consultation period for Eden Grove Properties Ltd's application ends on 28 August.

Much of the building remains covered in scaffolding and it will cost an estimated £8m to complete the renovation.

Nerys Lloyd-Pierce of Cardiff Civic Society said: "Our fear is that the Coal Exchange will become the victim of 'facadism', where the heart and soul of the building will be lost."

Nick Russell of Save the Coal Exchange said the attempts to reopen the hotel were "encouraging", but that concerns remained for its longer-term future.

The Coal Exchange - a short history

  • Coal merchants, ship owners and their agents met daily on the trading floor
  • At one time the price of the world's coal was determined there and in 1904 the world's first recorded £1m deal was struck there
  • Closed in 1958 after the decline of the coal industry in Cardiff
  • Earmarked as a future home for the Welsh assembly, but that plan fell through after devolution was rejected in a 1979 referendum
  • In more recent years it has been used for concerts, dinners and other events
  • There were once plans for the exchange hall to be restored and a 1,300-seat banqueting hall, public square, office space and innovation centre to be developed

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