Construction company Interserve is on track to complete the £17m transformation of a popular Newcastle building into the city’s newest hotel in time for a November opening.
The former Co-operative department store has been a landmark building in the heart of the city since its opening in 1932.
The Art Deco store’s twin towers and huge windows overlooking Newcastle made it a top destination for shoppers for generations, as well as a revered entertainment venue for its Rainbow Rooms suite, which played host to cabaret nights, ballroom dancing, Christmas parties and corporate functions until 1998.
The Co-operative maintained the Grade II-listed building as its flagship North East store for decades, until closing all sections almost 10 years ago, aside from the ground floor supermarket which remained open until December 2011.
Now international support services and construction giant Interserve is leading a 20-month project to regenerate the impressive structure, turning it into a 184-bed hotel which will be operated as a Premier Inn hotel.
Interserve site manager Graham Hill allowed Journal photographers into the building to see the dramatic progress that has been made so far, putting the business well on course to finish the hotel in time to welcome first guests in eight months’ time.
He said: “We’ve come across various features as we’ve uncovered the building in the demolition process, and a significant amount has been spent on removing them and restoring them so they can be part of the hotel.
“Most of my work has been in Teesside but this is a huge project – by far the biggest one I’ve undertaken in Newcastle.”
The project has involved up to 150 workers who have already completed the main interior shell, including a basement gym area, and electrical work has been carried out in preparation for the arrival of fixtures and fittings in each bedroom.
After years of much of the structure standing unused, significant renovation work has had to be carried out internally, not least to replace metal and pipe which was stolen by thieves.
Meanwhile, as a listed building, Interserve and Newcastle City Council have worked closely together to ensure key features are maintained.
Years of redecoration, partitioning and reconfiguration have been tripped back to reveal original features, some which the developers new existed from old photos and some hidden histories which have been discovered during the demolition process.
Interserve recruited historic building consultant Sarah Dyer in September 2013, initially to help the firm navigate the planning system so the firm could gain permission to work on the listed building.
Since then, Mrs Dyer has also helped the business uncover, restore and replace original historical features at great cost, including unique 1930s paint colour schemes, the impressive marble staircase and a cast iron arcade which had been boxed off from shoppers for decades.
Mrs Dyer said: “I helped with the listed building planning application and more recently I’ve been involved in advising on site.
“Some of the things we’ve found are part of the original features which really reveal the fun side to the building, such as the wavy, neon orange and yellow painted parts of the windows called spandrel sections.
“Ultimately we all want the same thing – to bring this building back into use – and there’s a path to navigate on what to keep from the old and keep for the new.”
The period balustrade around the building’s staircase had been supported by the famous “running men” – a homage to the Co-operative’s motto “Labour and Wait” – but most were stolen by metal thieves.
These have now been recast by Whitley Bay firm John Aynsley, the firm which made the originals.
The twin towers’ three copper and bronze clock faces were also stolen, but have now been replaced – and are soon to be come back into commission – by the original makers Smiths of Derby.