Remedial works have commenced at the iconic Austins building in Derry’s city centre which will allow for reoccupation in the future.
Construction work got underway at the site this week and Brendan Duddy, of the City Hotel Group which owns the building, explained that the first step in readying the building for future use was essential asbestos removal.
“We had an asbestos issue, so what we’re doing at the minute is making the building safe by getting the asbestos that’s there out of it.
“We couldn’t really do much until this issue was resolved, so we can’t get professionals in there to do detailed designs and plans until the asbestos is removed which is why we’re currently undertaking that task.”
Planning approval for refurbishment of the building, which is situated at numbers 2-6 The Diamond, was granted in July of last year.
Refurbishment and restoration of the vacant Listed Building will comprise of a new rear extension to the upper floors.
A ground floor dual fronted shop front will be re-designed retaining the traditional materials and appearance. There will be restoration and corrective work to façade and a change of use from 4th floor offices to retail floor space.
However, who or what will be based in the building once this work is carried out is unknown at this stage.
Mr Duddy said: “We haven’t really looked at that as we don’t know when the building will be ready for reoccupation, so we’re taking a step by step approach, but we’ll look at that once we get to the next stage.”
Removing the dangerous materials is a three or four month job in itself, he added.
The department store, which has stood in the heart of Derry’s city centre for 188 years, closed over two years ago with the loss of 53 jobs.
It was opened by Thomas Austin in 1830 and remained in his family until the 1970s when it was bought by Derry businessman, Larry Hasson.
In November 2014 the store was placed into administrative receivership.
The receiver, the City Hotel Group, then sold the trading side of the business to Hassonzender Ltd and the store remained open until in March 2016.
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