Re: Re: Developments in Cork

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Today’s Irish Examiner
By Tommy Barker

CONTROVERSIAL property investor Joe O’Donovan is putting Cork’s Wilton Shopping Centre on the market for €285 million, less than two months after 172 people lost their jobs there.

The Wilton complex was bought just two years ago for €124m from Tesco, who paid €80m for it in 2002.

The Cork centre, which was at the centre of a rent row after anchor tenant Roches Stores closed and left 172 staff out of work, is being marketed with joint agents DTZ and CBRE.

The complex is being earmarked for major development. Subject to planning, CBRE says it could quadruple to become a new western suburban town centre with a shopping mall, apartments, offices, basement car parking for 1,480 cars and medical centre on up to four floors.

Mr O’Donovan had initially bought 60% of the shopping centre in partnership with Howard Holdings. Last month, he bought out Howard’s 40% share for an undisclosed sum.

The huge price differential being sought is justified by investment specialist Sean O’Brien of CB Richard Ellis, selling for Mr O’Donovan, claiming “it is the best development opportunity in Cork”. The site sits on 17 acres, with scope to develop a new town centre and to go from 150,000 sq ft of buildings to 750,000 sq ft.

However, Tesco has retained ownership of its new 55,000 sq ft store and controls a significant portion of the parking area.

Mr O’Donovan hit the headlines in October after he and Marks and Spencer failed to agree over the rental value of retail space.

Roches had agreed a deal with M&S for the British retailer to take over its lease on the 45,000 square foot anchor tenant’s plot for the same rental price. It also agreed to take on the former Roches staff.

However, Mr O’Donovan demanded that M&S pay an increased rent. When agreement could not be reached, the deal fell apart. &

Last night, Linda Tanham of the retail staff union Mandate said: “The debacle with Roches and M&S did seem to be all about money. We did always suspect that there had to be an ulterior motive. Any shopping centre would jump at the chance to have a retailer like M&S going into it.”

Wilton traders’ spokesman Jim Byrne said traders would have an open mind on any possible redevelopment, and said they’d be glad not to have to deal with Mr O’Donovan as landlord.

“People are entitled to a profit, but it shouldn’t be on the backs of traders. Our business is down 25% or 30% since Roches closed. We will make a sale difficult for him until our concerns are addressed. It is like a bad divorce and a messy divide.”

Mr O’Donovan could not be contacted for comment last night.

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