The Ocean Hotel is set to be turned into a residential and commercial complex following the devastating fire which destroyed parts of the building on Saturday (May 8).
Owners, Phoenix Commercial Property Development (PCPD) Limited, who only bought the Sandown hotel three weeks ago, confirmed to the IW Observer: “It is highly unlikely that the former Ocean Hotel will be viable in a return to hotel usage”, adding that the future use of the site will “most likely be a mixed-use commercial and residential scheme.”
An arson investigation is now under way, after scores of firefighters tackled the fire at the historic derelict building while a large area of the town was closed off to the public. Fire crews from Sandown, Shanklin, Ryde, Newport, Ventnor, East Cowes and Cowes were all called to the scene. Eight fire appliances and two aerial ladder platforms were involved, as well as the police and ambulance services.
Fire service investigations started on Sunday with the arrival of specialist fire dogs searching the building to try and determine what started the blaze. It is thought it began in one room and spread quickly throughout neighbouring areas.
Neighbours have recently reported seeing teenagers in the property, which Phoenix maintain was properly secured. Their statement read: “At the time of the tragic fire, PCPD had owned the Ocean Hotel for little over two weeks, having purchased the property as part of a portfolio of assets from the joint administrators of the former Carlauren Group.
“It was a condition of the purchase that the site was re-secured by the sellers. Our agents confirmed that this had taken place immediately following completion of the sale. Indeed, we are well aware that this was indeed the case, having been contacted by a local resident expressing concern that a stray cat may have become trapped within the building as a result of the comprehensive securing of all external access.
“Following investigation, our agents were able to confirm that no animal had been inadvertently locked within the building. For the avoidance of doubt, at no time following acquisition of the site by PCPD has it been in anything other than a materially secure state.”
They described the fire as “a very disappointing turn of events, that further damages an already significantly compromised building.” They revealed that they are working on a plan to tidy up the exterior of the building in time for the forthcoming summer tourist season. On the future of the building they said: “In due course we will be developing and sharing plans for the site. However, at this early stage, we are able to say that the heritage significance of the King’s Head element of the site should, and is planned to be maintained as a hospitality asset, in keeping with its cultural heritage value to the local area.
“It is highly unlikely that the former Ocean Hotel will be viable in a return to hotel usage. We will continue to work with consultants to develop a pre-application planning submission to IW Council to determine the best possible future use of the site, which will, most likely, be a mixed-use commercial and residential scheme.” The statement closed by thanking the emergency services.
Shortly before the fire, police officers stopped three youths at the location. The police said they were assisting them with their enquiries, but they were not under arrest. Firefighters were called out to the hotel twice over the following two days following reports of an alarm going off in the area.
Fire crews were praised for the way they tackled the blaze in strong winds. One onlooker said: “The wind prevented the use of the extendable cherry picker from the seafront side and at one stage they were getting water from the sea. You could see the snorkel coming over the roof and the firefighters struggling with the wind to direct the water to the blazing roof structure.”
HM Coastguard teams were also called to assist with crowd control with the beach closed to onlookers, with local residents and business owners on hand to provide refreshments for the emergency services.
The Ocean Hotel was a 97-bedroom seafront property with a heated swimming pool and landscaped gardens. It was the brainchild of West End theatrical impresario, Henry Lowenfeld, and opened in 1899, swallowing up the town’s previous hotel of choice, the King’s Head, one of Sandown’s earliest buildings. The historic staircase inside the Ocean Hotel is the surviving centrepiece of the King’s Head, where Victorian guests included author, Lewis Carroll, and naturalist, Charles Darwin.
Shortly before the hotel was sold, it was occupied by a group of heritage activists, the Nutters Productions, Historical Preservation Society Branch, led by Arron Swaffar. They squatted there for several days fearing an important slice of Sandown ‘s history could be lost forever. He posted on Sandown HUB’s Facebook page: “I’ve decided to retire my camera and give up on film-making.
“No matter how many hours I put in, which way round I try to project things, I just can’t get people to feel what I feel and this has torn me apart; there was so much in there I never got the chance to document in the detail it deserved, and now we never will.”
Newly re-elected Cllr Ian Ward said: “The positive is that it was already sold, which was the biggest hurdle. The fire still makes the building recoverable and it will be brought back into life.
“Looking at further positives for the town, the Pier Street toilets are going ahead and a couple of other derelict buildings have now got planning permission to be rebuilt. There is a lot going on behind the scenes and the Dinosaur Isle project will put £20million-plus into the town. It’s not all doom and gloom.”