Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson announced Friday the city will buy the 96-year-old, Edwardian Renaissance-style building for terminal operations starting next year as passenger demand for River Mersey cruises is increasing -- returning it to its original function as a cruise passenger facility for the first time since the 1960s, when the Cunard Line moved its headquarters to Southampton.
As part of the deal, the city council will sell its interest in two other city center sites, reducing costs by around $2.2 million per year, while generating rental income of up to $2.8 million per year.
"This scheme will save the council a considerable amount of money, reduce the number of sites we occupy in the city center and create a fantastic facility for the ever-growing number of cruise liner passengers coming to the city," Anderson said. "This is an iconic building on the city's world famous waterfront and this opportunity to purchase the leasehold will deliver significant benefits and secure the future of the building."
The Cunard Building served as the shipping line's central headquarters from 1917 to 1967, housing company offices, administration and ship designing facilities on the upper floors. Some of Cunard's most famous ships were designed there, including the Mauritania, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary.
The lower floors were used for passenger facilities for departures and arrivals on the Cunard passenger liners in Liverpool -- it was the last sight of the British Isles for hundreds of thousands of emigrants from Britain and Ireland to the Americas.
Its basement was the central air raid headquarters for the Liverpool during World War II.
"We will not just use it as an operational base for our staff, but also as a place to host receptions, events and other functions, showcasing the city to potential investors," Anderson said. "And it will be fitting to return the building to its original function as a place where cruise liner journeys begin and end."
In its new function as the check-in point for River Mersey tours, it will replace a temporary tent set up next to the city's Titanic Memorial next year or in early 2015, The Liverpool Star reported.
As a result, the terminal will not be limited by its current capacity of 1,500 passengers on river turnaround cruises -- such liners often now exceed 3,000 capacity.
The move also means the city will be able to handle calling cruise liners, thus creating a favorable impression on tourists.
"The brand of the Cunard Building is huge and I'm sure it will attract even more cruiseline business to the city," Anderson told the Star. "We will be emphasizing the building's heritage with ship models and artifacts and opening it up to public tours."
The deal is set go before the Liverpool cabinet for approval Oct. 11.