Funding for a new £23 million pound hotel development at Armagh Gaol will be in place before the end of the year, it is expected.
But, Armagh I can reveal that, if the money fails to materialise by then, the project – which has been in the pipeline for years – will be abandoned.
And Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council – which currently stands to commit £4 million towards the hotel development – will look for alternative uses.
This could see existing services currently housed within the Palace building moved to the former women’s prison site.
If that route is taken, then alternative uses would be explored for the Palace, which is actually owned by the Church of Ireland and was leased to the former Armagh Council.
The boutique hotel and spa project would create 350 jobs and includes retail and public space.
It is being headed up by the Trevor Osborne Property Group but has been in limbo for some time due to a lack of funding commitment from Stormont.
Last summer representatives of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council visited Oxford to meet Mr Osborne in a bid to get the development back on the agenda. While there they were given a tour of Oxford Gaol, which has already been transformed by the Osborne Group into a mal maison boutique hotel.
Mr Osborne had earlier told Armagh I that it might get to the stage where the project was no longer financially feasible, commenting: “We continue to be in touch with the Northern Ireland Government in relation to grant support for the project but, until their commitment is quantified and finalised, the project cannot proceed further.”
The delegation returned from Oxford last summer saying all parties remained committed to seeing the work done.
A continued drive is on to secure the money needed from Stormont and this will be high on the agenda when the new Executive is up and running.
Now councillors have been told a “complete funding package” should be progressed by the end of 2017.
A new five-year tourism development and marketing strategy and action plan has been drawn up covering the period 2017 t0 2022 which has now been presented to council.
It references the ongoing bid to develop the Armagh Gaol but points out that, should it not proceed to the timscale, then “alternative uses for this building require to be actively pursued”.
The report adds: “Considerations include relocation of the council offices from the Archbishop’s Palace and release of same for alternative uses.”
Meetings with Stormont officials are expected to be requested shortly after the election in a bid to make a final push for central government’s share of which would be a huge investment for Armagh.