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Knock hotel plans up in smoke

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'ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATED' Hotelier Mike Morris.

Businessman devastated by fire that tore through dream hotel

Edwin McGreal

A Mayo hotelier is ‘absolutely devastated’ after a weekend fire at the vacant Belmont Hotel. The blaze is a massive setback to the planned reopening of the well-known Knock establishment.
After receiving a call early on Saturday morning, Mike Morris drove from his home in Hollymount to Knock to discover the hotel in flames, with five fire crews working on containing the raging fire.
He estimates that 40 bedrooms have been ‘burned to a cinder’ and the bill for damages could run to €2 million.

Not insured
Morris’s woes have been compounded by the fact the building was uninsured – he could not get an insurance company to cover the vacant building.
He had secured investors for the business in recent months, and they were hoping to finalise a deal this side of Christmas, before disaster struck at the weekend.
“We’re absolutely devastated. We worked so hard to get investors in and convince them it was a good location and a good product, and the whole thing might fall apart now,” he told The Mayo News.
But the businessman remains defiant. “We still have hope we can pull in the investors and get it through. The plan is still to proceed,” he said.
“We won’t know until we are able to go in, but we think it is limited to the bedrooms at the back. There are 65 bedrooms, and we think we’ve lost 40 of them, but the front section appears to be okay – the ballroom, the bar area, 25 bedrooms and possibly the kitchen,” he explained.

Recession
Morris and his wife, Joan, bought the hotel for €3.5 million in 2005, but it closed in 2010 after it ran into difficulties during the recession.
He battled with financial institutions to wrest back control and was on the brink of doing so.
“It was really hard having it closed. It closed with the recession. I was delighted we were able to hold onto it and delighted to have investors … things were looking up, and then this happens.
“We had put in a huge effort in the last two-and-a-half years getting investors together and lining them up. We’d been in the High Court twice. We were planning to bring it to a four-star hotel.
“We thought we had lost it to the banks, but we managed to get it back. We were involved in other developments where we were hit with huge losses. We were getting back here and moving forward and had worked so hard on it for the last couple of years. The plan was once the deal went through we were going to invest straightaway and hopefully have it operational in 12 to 18 months.
“Covid didn’t help in the last two years, and there were a lot of legal issues to deal with. The plans for redevelopment were being worked on for the past six to eight months, and they did not include knocking any part of it and certainly not so much of it being burned to the ground.
“We couldn’t get insurance because of its condition, it was considered derelict. That is very frustrating,” he said.

Cause
Mr Morris said they had issues with people breaking in while the hotel was closed and reveals that a lot of theft took place. He is unsure what caused the fire.
“I was there on Friday, and I checked it most days. There was nothing in there that could cause a fire. There was no power in the building. Unless we were unlucky enough to be struck by lightning, it was caused by someone. Either someone with nowhere to stay went in there and lit a fire to stay warm, as it was particularly cold on Friday night, or a group went drinking in there and started a fire and it got out of control.
“The place has been stripped down, anything worth stealing was stolen.
“I’m only delighted that no one got hurt. When the firemen went in on Saturday morning with their breathing apparatuses on I was scared someone was going to be found, and thankfully no one was found.
“I don’t think it was anything malicious, I think someone just started a fire to stay warm, but we’re left with a bill of €2 million,” he said.
He praised the response of the emergency services.
“The firemen were brilliant, they stopped it spreading to other parts of the hotel and the guards have been great too,” he said.
Gardaí in Claremorris confirmed they received a call at 7.35am on Saturday morning that four fire tenders were at the scene battling to contain the fire and that ‘significant damage’ was done to the rear of the hotel.
It took fire crews eight hours to bring it under control and contain the blaze. Anyone with any information is asked to contact Claremorris Garda Station on 094 9372080.