Caveat: Tyrrelstown shines a light on subtle art of spin

The Rick Larkin of Twinlite cut a different figure in the media this week than in 2008

 

Have you ever dealt with someone whose seemingly vast success at a ridiculously young age made you feel like a failure? That is how it felt after meeting Rick Larkin in December 2008.

Twinlite, as it is now, was in the news then – although it wasn’t for turfing out 40 families so it could sell their houses to repay a Goldman Sachs vulture fund.

At the time, it had just launched its €100 million plan to build Snowtopia, a proposed 11-storey high indoor ski centre in Mulhuddart, west Dublin. Snowtopia got a cool reception from planners, who rejected it. For a time, however, the idea was an audacious splash of colour in an otherwise dark period.

Larkin was spearheading the project at the age of 24. He was already an experienced helicopter pilot and a highly-accomplished film-maker. His feature, Satellites and Meteorites, starring Amy Huberman, was shown at Cannes.

I was 29 and the proud owner of a negative equity mortgage, a dented Mazda 6 and an uncertain future. Larkin had spent his school summers working in Anglo Irish Bank. I had spent mine pulling pints. But we got along fine.

He was an intriguing interviewee. It didn’t matter that Snowtopia was a crazy plan heading into a recession; indeed, it would probably be packed this weekend had the planners allowed it to go ahead.

What stood out was Larkin’s polished patter, his confident demeanour and, in hindsight, his ability to accurately call the property market.

At the time, the official reports said house prices had fallen 15 per cent from their peak. Larkin said the official reports were nonsense and prices had fallen at least twice that and would fall further.

Long-lasting consequences

Larkin, however, predicted the opposite. He said there would soon be a serious shortage of homes in many urban areas, and that prices would spike again. “We could be in trouble,” he said.

It was hard to believe him at the time. But he turned out to be correct, as the housing crisis today proves.

I was reminded of Larkin’s confident air this week when I heard him on Joe Duffy’s Liveline trying to kill off a story in the Sunday Business Post that said Twinlite was moving out tenants in Tyrrelstown to satisfy Goldman loans.

Sounding just as polished and confident as he did when I met him in 2008, he said the current situation had “nothing” to do with Goldman. He said the decision to move out the tenants was taken by their landlord, European Property Fund (EPF), and it was “they” who wanted to sell the houses. He also said Twinlite “has no development debts”, which made it sound like there was nothing to see here.

Restructuring deed

A local auctioneer was a party, along with Goldman and Twinlite, to a “restructuring deed” filed in the Companies Registration Office. Restructurings usually come with detailed plans for what will happen to the assets.

The latest accounts for companies linked to Twinlite show that one, Vieira Investments, had bank loans of about €12 million, while another, Cobalt Developments, owed more than €42 million to Nama and AIB.

Cobalt also appears to have recently sold a site in Mulhuddart, close to where Snowtopia was planned, to Swords Laboratories with the blessing of Nama.

Goldman Sachs, also, has clearly become deeply involved in Twinlite’s affairs. When I took a call from Larkin earlier this week, it was a Goldman executive who told me it was coming.

Meanwhile, shortly before Christmas, I-Wire Films, the company that produced Satellites and Meteorites, was dissolved. So there will be no more of Larkin’s films for a while.

He hasn’t lost his sense of fun, though. A day later, on Christmas Eve, he uploaded a late-night video of himself and some friends joyously singing O Holy Night in the voice of Eric Cartman, the obnoxious kid from South Park, re-creating a famous scene from the TV series.

Larkin sent the clip to Trey Parker, the South Park co-creator and voice of Cartman. As Cartman might say himself, that’s pretty sweet.

Unlike the future for those Tyrrelstown residents who must find new homes in the cut-throat market that Larkin predicted.

Footnotes . . .

St Patrick’s Day, it is hoped, provided a brief respite for Owen Killian, chief executive of Aryzta, who sparked the ire of investors after he revealed he “had to” sell shares worth €16 million this week in the Swiss-Irish food company. It sparked a huge sell-off on Wednesday in the stock, which has been battered over the last year.

Let’s hope building works at his new pad on Shrewsbury Road are going more smoothly. Killian paid €6.5 million for the former Belgian embassy in 2014. He has since launched a huge project to revamp and extend the property to 1,670sq m (18,000sq ft), making it one of the biggest private residences in the city.

“You can see the thing from space,” said one stockbroker this week, while musing about Aryzta’s difficulties.

Much of the expansion at Killian’s new home, however, is taking place underground. In London, where a shortage of space has forced some fancy homeowners to dig down for more room, they call them “iceberg homes”.

We all know what happens when you hit an iceberg. Let’s hope this isn’t all a Titanic-like omen for the Aryzta share price.

Killian is building a two-level basement, which includes a swimming pool and gym below ground, as well a lift to take cars to a parking area two storeys down.

It sounds like a bunker to me. The perfect place to hide from angry shareholders if things get any worse at the office.

* * * *

Alltech billionaire and drinks industry entrepreneur Pearse Lyons has chosen a name for his new distillery and visitor centre at the old Anglican church on St James’s Street in Dublin. It will be called the Pearse Lyons Distillery, proving that the simplest ideas are often the best ones. Lyons bought the church in 2013 and has spent the time since restoring it for reopening as a major tourist attraction and working distillery. When US-based Lyons bought the church, he previously told me, he had no idea his grandfather, John Hubert Lyons, was buried in the graveyard at the back.

Pot stills now sit where the altar used to be, and Lyons also had to buy out old church covenants that prevented the building’s use in relation to the manufacture of alcohol.

“Visitors will have the opportunity to feel, taste, see, smell and learn about the process of distilling Irish whiskey and take home some of their very own to share the story with their family and friends,” he said.

The distillery is set to open next spring. If any visitors over-indulge in the whiskey, screaming for God the next morning won’t help. It doesn’t matter that the stuff was made in a church.

* * * *

Bank of Ireland uploaded a slickly produced video onto YouTube in recent days lauding the Belvedere rugby team who triumphed in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup last weekend, which the bank sponsors.

The video profiles the “team behind the team”, interviewing various people associated with the school and team. One snippet includes an interview with Belvedere captain Brian Egan.

Then we hear from the “captain’s mother”, a disembodied voice in the background who says; “They work so damn hard – I’m so delighted for them.”

The captain’s mum is Fiona Muldoon, chief executive of insurance company FBD. Mums always have you covered.

* * * *

I thought the green, white and gold “100 years” vintage Smeg fridge for sale in Arnotts was the most impressive example of businesses getting in on the 1916 commemoration bandwagon.

That was until I logged on to Broadsheet.ie. There, I discovered that businesswoman Shawna Scott, who runs online retailer Sex Siopa, has launched a tricolour sex toy to commemorate the, er, Rising. As Broadsheet said, just lie back and think of Ireland. Too good not to share.

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