Unicorn among Merrion Row buildings acquired by Friends First
Insurer paid less than €9m for portfolio and will be looking to increase €433,000 rent roll
Three of the properties in the “Merrion Collection” have leases that run out next year; the fourth lease expires in 2020
Friends First has acquired four commercial buildings, including the Unicorn Restaurant and a high-profile redevelopment site on Merrion Row, close to St Stephen’s Green and the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin’s south inner city.
The insurance company paid somewhat less than the asking price of €9 million for the portfolio, which will form part of its Irish Property Fund.
The properties currently produce a rental income of €433,000 and will provide a challenge for Friends First to improve their value either through refurbishment or redevelopment. Three of the properties in the “Merrion Collection” have leases that run out next year; the fourth lease expires in 2020.
The various options include the refurbishment and amalgamation of the buildings, regearing of the existing leases, or a full redevelopment of the buildings. Significantly, there is a lapsed planning permission for a substantial redevelopment, including a restaurant with cooking school and private dining, ground floor retail and an aparthotel.
An investment syndicate known as Ruby Point Ltd, led by Liam Shanahan and Liam Coulter, spent well in excess of €5 million on assembling the site. The existing buildings are relatively small, extending to a mere 8,800sq ft over two floors. A yard in front of the Unicorn, occasionally used as a car park, is likely to be included in any new development.
An obvious reference point from a planning point of view is the modern five-storey over-ground floor office block occupied by the Department of Finance on the opposite side of Merrion Row.
Friends First’s capacity for improving the rent and capital value of the newly acquired properties should be helped by its ongoing handling of nine retail and office properties in the Madrid Portfolio on South William and Clarendon streets in Dublin city centre. One of its projects will involve the refurbishment of 55 South William Street to provide a restaurant on the ground and first floor with a kitchen in the basement and office accommodation in the upper floors.
Friends First Property Fund has reported annualised returns of more than 6 per cent for the past 12 months. A number of redevelopment projects are under way, including Blackrock Shopping Centre and offices as well as Royal Hibernian Way on Dawson Street.
Chris Belton and Peter Stapleton of Lisney handled the sale of the Merrion Collection while Brian Shields of JLL advised Friends First.