Nama refuses €20m civic bid for Bord Gáis theatre

New Beginning’s offer to place theatre in trust for ‘artistic and cultural life of the State’ turned down in favour of private investors

Sarah King and Amanda Gallagher from Loreto College with Joey, the puppet from War Horse, one of many successful shows to run at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sarah King and Amanda Gallagher from Loreto College with Joey, the puppet from War Horse, one of many successful shows to run at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 01:00

Agents for Nama have turned down an offer of €20 million to buy the landmark Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin and hold it as a public trust.

The Irish Times understands that New Beginning, a civic group that works on insolvency and debt-resolution issues, was among the bidders for the theatre, which was offered for sale in July on behalf of Nama, seeking offers “in excess of €20 million”.

Nama acquired the Daniel Libeskind-designed theatre, now widely regarded as the premier performance space in Ireland, when it took over debts owed by developer Harry Crosbie.

The theatre cost an estimated €80 million to build, a sum that was indirectly subsidised by the State through the swapping of adjacent publicly owned land.

New Beginning’s spokesman Ross Maguire SC declined to comment on the group’s bid because it had signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the tender process. The Irish Times has, however, spoken to potential investors who were informed of the bid and agreed to put up money.

The idea was that each of the 2,111 seats in the theatre would be “sold” for €10,000 to investors who would in turn place them in a trust “for the benefit of the artistic and cultural life of the State”.

According to one person, who agreed to buy five seats, “This was a fantastic idea to pull people together in Ireland, and the diaspora, to make this beautiful theatre more than just a property play.”

On Thursday, however, CBRE, which is conducting the sale on behalf of the Nama-appointed receivers, rejected the New Beginning bid, as well as bids from a number of other interested parties.

It is understood that the theatre is now likely to be sold to one of a number of bidders who have offered considerably more than €20 million.

The theatre has been consistently profitable since it opened in 2010, with 455,000 seats sold last year and annual revenue of over €8 million. The winning bidder will acquire ownership of the theatre until 2207 at a notional annual rent of €100.

New Beginning has now written to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, calling on him to use his powers under section 14 of the National Asset Management Agency Act to issue instructions to Nama to prevent the sale to a purely commercial developer.

“The theatre was constructed on a 300-year basis and constitutes vital and unique infrastructure contributing to the social and cultural life and development of the State,” it said.