The fortunes of Birmingham's Grand Hotel could be about to change for the better, it has been revealed.
New chairman of Hortons' Estate, Richard Samuda, said "good progress" was being made on trying to give the building a new future. But it is unlikely it will stay as a hotel – he suggests it will be turned into offices and retail.
However, Mr Samuda could not give any timeframe on an announcement, although he said the project was "moving forward".
The majority of the building has been empty for years, but discussions between Hortons, the city council and English Heritage are on-going.
Mr Samuda said it was a very complex building, sitting as it does on the 'Birmingham hill'. That meant difficulty sorting out levels sufficient to achieve the necessary floor plates.
Mr Samuda, previously a non-executive on the Hortons' board, has succeeded Michael Horton following his retirement last month after seven years in the post and 44 years as a director.
He heads a company with a portfolio of development and investment property valued at more than £200 million.
Mr Samuda, who is a chartered accountant based in Birmingham, is a former advisory partner at KPMG specialising in regeneration and retail.
He advised Hortons whilst he was at KPMG and since his appointment to the board in October 2004.
Rob Blyth, chief executive of Hortons' Estate, said: "Richard brings a wealth of experience to Hortons coupled with a wide knowledge of West Midlands business."
Mr Samuda said: "I am honoured to have been invited by the board to become Horton's chairman and to build on the successful platform Michael Horton has created.
"This is an exciting time for Hortons with a renewed mandate from its wide family shareholder base combined with market conditions which should play to the strengths of the business.
"In tough credit times we have gearing levels which are pretty sensible. We have the capacity to go to a higher level which would still be conservative."
He said Midland rentals were generally holding up. "There is no suggestion that they are about to fall off a cliff."
But he said it was definitely taking longer to close deals.
Asked about asset values, under pressure across the board in the property sector, Mr Samuda said Hortons had a quality portfolio.
And, with Hortons being a private company, it was not under the same pressure to sell.
Gearing, he emphasised, was the key which was way Hortons considered itself in a strong position in the current climate.
Hortons is stepping up its development activity and streamlining the investment portfolio.
This year has seen the company acquire development and investment opportunities in areas including Coventry, Solihull, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire as well as undertaking an office joint venture with Business Homes on a 3.52 acre site at Birmingham Business Park.
The company dates back to Isaac Horton when he first acquired the Midland Hotel – now the Burlington – in Birmingham's New Street in 1871.