NI’s largest commercial property transaction completes for £125m

Wirefox has acquired Belfast’s CastleCourt shopping centre

The CastleCourt shopping centre in Belfast. The centre was built  on the site of the former Grand Central Hotel.

The CastleCourt shopping centre in Belfast. The centre was built on the site of the former Grand Central Hotel.

 

Northern Ireland’s largest single commercial property transaction to take place in recent years has completed for £125 million (€140 million).

Northern Ireland-based investment firm Wirefox has acquired the CastleCourt shopping centre in Belfast from fund manager Hermes.

The 27-year-old building is Northern Ireland’s third-largest shopping centre with 340,000sq ft of space, catering to more than 100 retailers.

The centre, anchored by UK retailer Debenhams, witnesses an annual footfall of 12.5 million and has Belfast’s largest car park, with some 1,600 spaces.

In a statement on Friday, Savills, who acted for Wirefox, said there was strong interest from several new entrants “which is likely to further enhance the retail offering over the next few months”.

Development on CastleCourt began in the late 1980s on a site formerly home to the Grand Central Hotel. The building underwent refurbishment in 2004 to upgrade the food court, car park and customer facilities.

“Despite the shock of Brexit and ongoing political uncertainty, the retail sector in Northern Ireland continues to perform strongly, with positive retailer performances and robust letting activity,” said Ben Turtle, head of office at Savills Northern Ireland.

“With consumer confidence at its highest level since the third quarter of 2015, and the economy expected to grow at a faster rate than previously predicted, we expect Wirefox to reap the benefits of this high-profile acquisition,” he added.

Original developer John Laing sold the centre in 1994 to an English property company called MEPC. The deal was estimated at £80.5 million.

Subsequently, Australian shopping centre group Westfield acquired a share of the centre alongside MEPC. In 2002, the most recent owners, Hermes, purchased MEPC’s stake.

It was reported in 2007 that Hermes tried to sell its 50 per cent stake in CastleCourt to Ewart properties but the deal collapsed.

Two years later, in 2009, the centre was put on the market with an estimated value of £350 million.

In 2012 Hermes took full control of the centre in a £400 million deal that included two other shopping centres in England.