A regional newspaper office is to be transformed into an hotel in a £5m redevelopment plan, with journalists housed on the ground floor.
Martland Mill, home of the Wigan Observer and the Wigan Evening Post for the last three decades, is to be turned into a Holiday Inn Express, throwing open its doors to its very first guests by Christmas 2014.
Meanwhile, staff from both papers are to remain based in the building, relocating to the ground floor with an entirely new separate entrance to the hotel.
The £5m redevelopment plan was signed-off last week and reported on the paper’s website yesterday.
Janet Wilson, Wigan Newspapers Group Editor said: “This important investment in the area is most welcome, bringing new jobs and a boost to the local economy. We are delighted with our new premises on the ground floor of the building, and are looking forward to being able to access the extra facilities that the hotel will create.
“Our move downstairs into the offices has raised staff morale, and the new owner Steve McManamon has been great to work with, always keen to include the newspaper heritage in any of his plans.
“The new hotel will make great use of the old press building, and breathe new life into Martland Mill.”
The plan is the latest in a series of projects by the newspapers’ owners, Johnston Press, to maximise the commercial potential from its property portfolio.
Some current and former newspaper offices, such as the former Yorkshire Post building in Leeds, have been sold for redevelopment, while others have been sold and leased back, allowing the journalists to remain in situ.
The Martland Mill offices, which have been the base for the two Wigan titles since the early 1980s, was marketed for sale through a property website set up by JP last year which has now been taken down.
The website stated that JP may consider a short leaseback of the parts of the site it occupies if and when the building, which includes a now-defunct press hall, was sold.
The proposed hotel, which is expecting 80pc occupancy at weekends, will initially offer 87 rooms to guests, but that figure is expected to rise within two years to 110.
It is expected that over 40 full-time jobs will be created from the venture, and the Preston-based developers, Printing Press Services International (PPSI), calculate that it could be worth as much as £60m to the town’s economy over the 20-year cycle of the lease.
Fans visiting Wigan Athletic’s DW Stadium are expected to prove a “significant” customer base for the new hotel, and experts from the hospitality industry forsee approaching 30,000 hotel visits a year.
The deal sees MD of PPSI Stephen McManamon’s personal involvement with the site come full circle.
Along with his father, chairman of the company Joe McManamon, he installed and commissioned the newspaper’s presses when the building was first opened by what was then United Newspapers back in 1982.
Initially, he had planned to turn the giant existing press hall into a manufacturing plant for press equipment – his predominant business concern – surrounded by offices.
Then during a tour of the Martland Mill site, his father remarked that the layout would “make a great hotel”… and the redevelopment proposals suddenly – and dramatically – changed tack.
For the last six months Stephen, 51, and his small team of staff have personally overseen the preparation of the site for its transformation as a hotel.
He said: “This may have been a newspaper centre but its grid layout is absolutely perfect for conversion into a hotel.
“The views, particularly from the first floor room windows out over towards Wigan town centre a mile away, are just spectacular and every room will have excellent daylight.
“Its a quiet location, set back from any main roads and yet near enough for visitors to enjoy the facilities, perfect in fact and I am certain it is going to be a fantastic success.
“I was just 21 when I first came to Martland Mill over the installation of the presses. And 30 years later it is immensely satisfying to be responsible for finding a new and very productive use for the site and one that will play its part in creating jobs and boosting the Wigan economy.”