South Belfast SDLP Councillor Gary McKeown has said that the decision of a court that the Scottish Mutual Building, previously earmarked for the George Best Hotel, can be sold, must act as a catalyst for efforts to get the building back into use.
Cllr McKeown said: "My heart goes out to small investors who put money into this project in good faith – in some cases lifetime savings – only for it now to be lost. I'm sure it will be devastating for them.
"However, this decision must now act as a catalyst to get the building regenerated and brought back into use, as it is extremely frustrating to see such an iconic city centre location lying empty.
"As more and more visitors return to Belfast and spend time around Donegall Square, it's frankly an embarrassment for the city that this building is boarded up and serving no purpose. Its location is so central, just across from Belfast City Hall and adjacent to where tourists arrive on coaches, that we really don't want this to be their first image of Belfast.
"I also have concern about its long-term welfare, as a historical listed building of this type needs care and attention. Clearly this well-known building, which couldn't be closer to the city centre, is a prime location for a hotel, restaurant or a number of local small businesses. If this doesn't happen, then we should be looking at how it can be put into public use for community benefit.
"The bottom line is that this building needs regenerated and given a new lease of life as a landmark piece of our built heritage that still has so much to offer."