Port St Mary railway station building has been sold subject to contract to a firm of accountants.
It intends to base its office there and rent out the railway-related facilities (such as waiting room, ticket hall and public conveniences) to the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure (DCCL). It is believed the firm will employ around 12 to 15 people.
The firm will pay more than the asking price of £395,000, outbidding one rival bidder Cocoa Red, which hoped to run a chocolate factory from the 19th Century building that has been empty for several years.
‘The price put forward was a very good offer,’ said DCCL minister Graham Cregeen. ‘I understand Laurence Skelly [Rushen MHK and former DCCL minister] was supporting the chocolate factory, but unfortunately they did not fall near their price.’
He added: ‘It will bring further jobs to Port St Mary. It’s very good value for money for the government. We are in the situation we cannot sell property for a considerably lower sum, we are looking after ratepayers’ money.
‘The Station Hotel [next door] has invested a huge amount of money. If the building had been sold to a bespoke hotel at a low price they [Station Hotel proprietors] would have been jumping up and down saying: “Why have you done this?”.’
Mr Skelly was supportive of Cocoa Red buying the building.
‘I thought it would be of benefit to Port St Mary, it would be a fantastic attraction and very complementary to the existing services,’ he said
‘Cocoa Red wanted to use it as a chocolate factory, people could watch how they make chocolate and there would have been an area for retail and a bakery.’
Cocoa Red’s Karl Berrie said he was ‘extremely disappointed’ with the decision. He had hoped to create a chocolate factory, museum, coffee shop and small retail area to cater for tourists and locals in a style sympathetic to the building’s heritage, similar to his parents’ Victorian guest house on Port St Mary promenade, which has also won industry accolades.
‘I think our price was not as high [as other offers],’ he said. ‘But we could bring tourism and flare. We do education at schools already – we would give talks on chocolate. We thought Port St Mary station was an ideal link, and we would have worked with railways. Port Erin has a lot, Port St Mary has not got a lot. It would have been great for us to do something really nice there.
‘We are a small, high end producer of chocolate, not a finance house and there is enough office space that’s empty [for an accountancy firm]. I thought we could bring a lot more in other ways to the village and the Isle of Man as a whole.’
Mr Berrie planned to live on site and would have worked with the railways on events out of office hours.
Contrary to Mr Cregeen’s comment, he said they would not offer serious competition to The Station Hotel next door, but complement the hotel and offer ‘one or two rooms for railway enthusiasts’, he said.
With more orders from high end retailers such as Fortnum & Mason and increasing export orders, the business is expanding, leading to employment opportunities. The station opportunity was unique and now Mr Berrie is unsure where the business will move.
He said: ‘We like the island and Port St Mary and want to put something back into the local population. We might not stay, we might even have to go to the UK.’
Mr Skelly said he is in discussion about finding suitable alternative premises for Cocoa Red. ‘We want to explore and retain business in Port St Mary, that’s a key point.’
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