PORTRUSH’S tourism industry has been dealt a savage blow with the shock news that the award-winning Ramada Hotel has gone into administration.
The Main Street hotel - which employs around 50 staff - faces an uncertain future after being placed into administration shortly after the Republic-based National Asset Management Company (Nama) demanded its owners hand over £48m within a 24-hour period.
Loans taken by property companies operated by the Kennedy family were secured against the hotel, therefore dragging it into the mire.
According to Mr Kennedy, who took charge 11 years ago, the hotel remains profitable.
It has an annual turnover of £2.2m and is forecast to generate approximately £300,000 surplus funds over the next six months, its peak trading time.
The hotel announced the “very sad news” on its Facebook page last week.
A statement from Mr Kennedy said: “As of approximately 4pm today the Ramada Hotel, Portrush, has been placed in administration by NAMA, the asset management agency for the Irish government.
“First, the most important thing to point out is that the hotel will continue to trade as normal and we have been assured that all bookings and reservations are safe.
“The Kennedy family, who have owned the hotel for the last 11 years would like to thank all our customers and friends for the support and custom they have given us over that period of time.
“We hope you will continue to support Ann and all her team during what is obviously going to be a very difficult period for all involved.”
Nama has appointed receivers to the Ramada Hotel other property assets in relation to a £48m debt.
Gregg Sterritt and Stephen Armstrong of Belfast-based accountancy and consultancy firm RSM McClure Watters have been appointed Joint Administrators.
In a statement, they said: “It is the intention of the Administrators to continue trading, and keep this well-known North Coast hotel open for “business as usual.
“Given the great location we hope that people will continue to benefit from the hotel’s facilities and our immediate objective is to maintain operations and honour bookings.”
However, their business Kennedy Construction borrowed from banks in the Republic. Those loans became toxic in the property crash and now they owe NAMA £47m.
The Ramada, the jewel in their crown, has a turnover of over £2m per year, so NAMA’s move came as a shock.
Mr Kennedy said in an interview that he thought the way the situation had been handled was “disgraceful.”
“The fact that they’ve jumped in, stepped in and taken over the hotel goes against everything they’ve come north to state to us in Stormont and everything else that this is not what they’ll do.
“That it [closure] will be a last resort, that they’ll work with people willing to talk to them and everything else to build a structure that leaves a good sound business going forward,” he said.
Mr Kennedy said that anyone with concerns should contact the hotel reception on 028 7082 6100.
The 69-bedroom hotel was built on the site of the former Northern Counties hotel and won an award in 2011 for guest satisfaction.
It regularly attracted tourists, particularly golfers from all over the world and operated a successful restaurant and bar area.
Coleraine DUP alderman James McClure criticised NAMA for its failure to communicate with the owners of the hotel.
Throwing his weight behind his party’s effort to protect the future of the business, he said: “The fact that NAMA has placed the business in administration without speaking to representatives of thoese running the hotel is concerning.
“The Kennedy family have owned the hotel for the past 11 years and provided a high level of service in a resort which depends heavily on having such a business in the heart of the town.
“This is a worrying time for staff and we are calling for NAMA to shed some light on what the future holds.”
He said that the prospect of a fire sale – making all assets available at heavily discounted prices – would be a concern.
“NAMA holds numerous Northern Ireland businesses in its portfolio and there is genuine alarm that fire sales could be an avenue the agency is prepared to consider in an effort to take some assets off its books, regardless of the inherit problems they deliver in already depressed and difficult markets,” added alderman McClure.
East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell said he was worried about the long-term prospects for the hotel.
He added that NAMA had declined offers to take part in meetings to discuss the future with himself and party colleague Ian Paisley, or with the owners.
“I know it is a going concern and it is a profitable concern,” Mr Campbell said.
“The key is to try to make sure that it keeps being that profitable concern and does not result in some sort of discounted fire sale - not just for that, but for other properties in the NAMA portfolio.”