A BREWERY has revealed it plans to convert former offices in Inverness city centre into a hostel, providing up to 54 beds for tourists.
The Black Isle Brewing Company has submitted a planning application to Highland Council for the development in Academy Street, which is at the heart of a regeneration project aimed at breathing new life into the city centre and making it a more welcoming and attractive place to work, live and visit.
The first and second floor empty offices above the Nickel ‘n’ Dime store were previously used by the children’s reporter administration team which relocated to Castle Wynd in June.
The brewery wants to create eight dormitories, each sleeping between four and 10 people in bunk beds, on the first floor. The plans also include separate male and female shower rooms and washing and toilet facilities.
The second floor would include an open plan communal lounge, a reception area and kitchen.
The brewery currently provides tourist accommodation in 14 rooms, sleeping between one and four people, above its Black Isle Bar which opened in nearby Church Street last year.
Its latest proposed venture has emerged as the city has experienced a busy summer tourist season, with the huge demand for beds often outstripping supply.
Demand has been so high that some city hotels have been charging almost £500 a night – more than it would cost to stay at some of London’s top hotels – prompting accusations that they are being greedy.
The prospect of additional tourism accommodation in the city centre has been welcomed by business and community leaders.
Mike Smith, manager of the Inverness Business Improvement District (Bid), said the backpackers’ hostel would be "enormously successful", if given the go-ahead.
"Bid is delighted to see this unit being brought back into use," he told the Courier. "It is good to see the Black Isle Brewery investing again in the city centre and extending accommodation provision at that end of Academy Street.
"It is targeting a specific market and obviously backpackers are an important element of the tourists who come to the city centre.
"I am sure it will be enormously successful – great credit is due to the Black Isle Brewery for investing in the city centre."
Pat Hayden, chairwoman of Crown and City Centre Community Council, gave the plans a cautious welcome and said her organisation was looking at them closely.
"While we are happy about backpacker accommodation, we would have a concern if there were any moves to use it as a house of multiple occupation (HMO) in the winter when things are quiet," she said.
"We cannot have any more HMOs in the city centre. We are almost at saturation point.
"If it is for budget accommo-dation all year round, that is fine. There is a real lack of affordable tourist accommodation and you hear some real horror stories.
"This could plug a gap and if it is properly run, it could be a good thing."
The Black Isle Brewery, based at Munlochy, was started in 1998 by unemployed beer lover David Gladwin who set out to make world-class beer using barley and hops grown on organic farms.
Today, the brewery produces 5000 litres per brew and packages it in bottles, casks and kegs to be shipped all over the world. Over the years, the company has bought 125 acres of land and turned it into a working organic farm.
Other projects in progress in Academy Street include the conversion of former offices in Ballantyne House into a new 54-room Travelodge. The hotel – the company’s third in the Highland capital – is due to open in December.
A crowdfunded Scottish craft beer and spirits bar, led by Bruce MacGregor of Blazin’ Fiddles, is close to completion.
The Inverness Courier tried to contact Mr Gladwin but he was unavailable.