Concerns surfacing over role of Nama in North
The sale of the Invest NI building could be a ‘golden opportunity’ or a loss for Nama
Today Belfast is littered with forlorn sites that echo the failed dreams and lost fortunes of local property developers. Photograph: Pacemaker
The polished, glossy corporate headquarters of Invest NI, the North’s business development agency, have over the last eight years become something of a landmark in the heart of Belfast.
The high-rise, glass-fronted, award-winning building stands as a reminder of happier times when you could not move in the city for multi-million pound development schemes.
Today Belfast is littered with forlorn sites that echo the failed dreams and lost fortunes of local property developers.
The only sure bet in the city when it comes to commercial property these days is that somewhere along the way, the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) will be involved.
Even the glossy headquarters of Invest NI in Bedford Square falls under the Nama umbrella in the North, which is why the agency is likely to be keeping a particularly close eye on it at the moment.
Eight months ago, the com- pany that developed Bedford Square announced it was putting the building up for sale. Bedford Street Developments is a joint venture controlled by Tyrone-based property developers Eamonn Laverty and Séamus McAleer and Dunloe House (NI).
Laverty and McAleer are also the managing director and chairman of the Tyrone-based McAleer & Rushe Group, a privately owned multi-million pound construction firm which has a property portfolio valued at one stage in the region of £750 million.
Bedford Street Developments constructed Bedford Square as part of a public-private partnership (PPP) initiative – the first major office development under the scheme in the North. A subsidiary of Bedford Street Developments, Mrde, currently holds the PPP on Bedford Square.
Latest annual accounts for Bedford Street Developments, published earlier this month, show that the company made an operating profit in the 12 months to October 2012 of £621,707 – chiefly from car parking and rental income.
They also detail that the Irish developer Liam Carroll resigned from the board in October 2012.
In a note outlining director’s interests, the accounts state that a group company, Rambridge, had “issued unguaranteed loan notes in the amount of €26,974,704, to companies controlled by Liam Carroll and to a pension fund which is for the benefit of Liam Carroll”.
The accounts also highlight that one of Bedford Street Developments’ principal funders is Nama and that it has a formal agreement with the agency that runs until March 2016 “on the basis of a gradual realisation of assets and repayment of debt over time”.
This is exactly why Nama will be watching the Bedford Square sale in Belfast very closely. Stephen Surphilis from Bedford Street Developments had previously said it anticipated getting a price “in excess of £40 million” for the buildings.