Speculation is rising that property company, Corbo, is about to buy back Fairhill Shopping Centre — the Ballymena retail park its developer, Sam Morrison, lost control of during the financial crisis.
Following the disposal of two other retail assets belonging to Morrison’s company Corbo Properties — Altnagelvin Retail Park in Strabane and the Showgrounds in Omagh — CBRE has now been instructed to market the 50-unit County Antrim complex with a guide price of £52.5m.
Last year Ulster Bank finally sold around £50m in loans relating to Corbo to a four-way consortium of Deutsche Bank, Burlington Loan Management, Ireland’s KW Real Estate and KW Investment in Luxembourg. To recoup its investment the partnership immediately began selling off the shopping sites.
With Morrison at the helm, Corbo remains one of the largest privately owned property companies in Britain with more 1.6m square feet of prime retail space under its sole ownership. Its boss is also a fixture of The Sunday Times Rich List.
“Mr Morrison has quietly built up one of the most impressive retail portfolios across both Ireland and the UK,” explained Rich List author, Colm Murphy.
“It is unusual for developers to build shopping centres and hold on to them as most of the value is in site purchase, building and first letting,” he added. “They are then generally sold on to pension funds to larger investment companies. Mr Morrison has a strong track record in identifying opportunities and realising them — So I would not say we have seen the last of him. particularly in the Northern Ireland retail sector.”
Corbo has sold a large number of assets in recent years with chief executive, Stephen Kirkpatrick, admitting not long ago that his company was building a “war chest” for acquisitions.
The sell-offs began in 2010 when Corbo’s prime site at Belfast’s Donegall Place, with anchor tenant M & S, was sold to CBRE Investors for £8.75m. And last year it disposed of Shane Retail Park, on Boucher Road in south Belfast, together with north Belfast’s Cityside Retail Park.
Corbo also sold Holland Market Retail Park and Winfrey Avenue Retail Park, both in Spalding in England, Lemon Quay in Truro and Sainsbury’s in Braidwater Retail Park in Ballymena for a combined £74m.
It has now emerged that last autumn Morrison and other company officers established two corporate entities in Scotland: OBROC Limited Partnership and OBROC General Partner Ltd.
According to financial statements filed for Corbo Ltd, covering February to October 2014, properties it held were transferred to the new limited partnership — funded by a new loan facility from Deutsche Bank, Burlington Loan Management, KW Real Estate in Ireland and KW Investment in Luxembourg. Under the restructuring Corbo’s remaining assets were financed by a loan from Bank of Ireland.
“All this,” claims one Irish property watcher, “looks as though Corbo’s acquisitions spree is about to start, with Fairhill Shopping Centre at the top of the shopping list.”
Source: Belfast Telegraph
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