A £1.36 million refurbishment of the historic Blackfriars pub on Academy Street got the go ahead this week thanks to the announcement of a £422,606 grant award by The Inverness Townscape Heritage Project and a £689,200 investment by the building’s owners, Heineken’s Star Pubs & Bars division. Experienced Glasgow and Edinburgh hospitality operator, Billy McAneney, is taking the helm as the pub’s new operator and investing a further £250,000 in the site.
The announcement was made as Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and MSP for Inverness & Nairn, Fergus Ewing, visited the pub to see the plans first hand. It paves the way for Blackfriars to reopen after an 18 month closure, further contributing to the revitalisation of the Academy Street area.
The ground floor will be transformed into a great quality traditional pub specialising in locally sourced food. The two upper storeys are to be converted into eight en suite letting rooms to provide much needed accommodation for visitors to Inverness. The pub will be renamed The Optimist to mark its change of direction.
The project will sympathetically restore the Grade B 18th century building. Outside work will include removing the render to reveal the old stonework, renovating the windows and chimneys and replacing the roof. The refurbishment will install a new kitchen and toilets and give the interior a smart new look, whilst retaining its original features and character.
Work starts at the end of April and it is hoped The Optimist will open its doors by the end of November. Twenty new jobs will be created.
Highland Councillor Jimmy Gray, Chair of the Inverness Townscape Heritage Partnership, commented: “More than £1.3 million will be spent on this iconic pub; the plans are ambitious and reflect the changing needs of visitors to Inverness today. With tourism continuing to rise each year, having a central venue that offers great food and drink as well as quality accommodation, can only be a good thing. It is fantastic to see another grant supported development on Academy Street take shape; our vision for the area is starting to become a reality. We hope that it will inspire others to apply for grants.”
Fergus Ewing said: “A well invested pub is good news for everybody. Not only does it keep much-loved pubs at the heart of their communities but it provides a significant economic contribution including local jobs. Inverness’ regeneration is playing a key part in the Highlands’ increasing popularity as a destination for visitors. The opening of The Optimist is a further boost to Academy Street’s revival and the city’s appeal.”
Star Pubs & Bars operations director for Scotland, Brian Davidson, added: “We are delighted to be a part of the exciting plans for Academy Street. Thanks to the Inverness Townscape Heritage Project we are able to take the redevelopment of Blackfriars to another level and unlock the full potential of this beautiful old pub. We are committed to investing in Scotland’s pubs to ensure they thrive for the long-term and are spending £4 million on pubs around the country this year.”