Buyer found for Morecambe's Art Deco masterpiece

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The Independent Online

Morecamb's Midland Hotel, one of Britain's finest Art Deco buildings, was sold for a fraction of its £850,000 asking price yesterday.

The hotel, which was recently ranked among the country's most popular 20th- century buildings, has been on the market for three years.

Its buyer will have to spend millions to recreate the former glory of an establishment designed by Oliver Hill for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1933, which features artworks by Eric Gill and Eric Ravilious.

The hotel has been closed since November and its decline, which has mirrored the demise of the Lancashire resort, had even prompted its selling agents to ask the local authority to consider its compulsory purchase.

Its new owner, thought to be the Grimsby-based Kalber Leisure, has indicated it will be restored and operated as a hotel by next summer. Conversion into flats or a rest home had seemed more probable when the building rapidly deteriorated after the death of its previous owner.

The hotel's decline prompted the heritage group Twentieth Century Society last year to express concern over its future. It was ranked 19th in a poll of Britain's favourite 20th- century buildings in a Channel 4 poll in 1999.

But although Kalber is thought to have spent "considerably more" than the council's valuation price of £325,000, Morecambe was not holding its breath for the old place yesterday.

When it was built, the British were streaming to the likes of Morecambe and the hotel was a shrine to sunshine, fresh air and healthy recreation. Today the resort is fighting harder than most seaside towns for commercial survival and any big outlay will take years to recoup.

No one seemed willing to take on the Midland and several deals to buy it fell through last year. Purchase offers were either too low or came with too many conditions attached.

The new owner ­ one of two developers issued with contracts before the sale was finalised ­ acquires a rust-stained white facade, boarded-up welcome signs and huge works by Gill that still adorn its walls.

Tourism officers in Morecambe greeted news of the deal with cautious "relief and hope", as did the Friends of the Hotel group, which had campaigned for its restoration.