Ballymena 'buzz' after Tower Centre shopping mall is bought
Ballymena's Tower Centre shopping mall has been bought by property developer Sam Morrison, it's understood.
The centre, which was the first to open in the town and was on the market for £6m, formerly belonged to boxing promoter and businessman Barney Eastwood.
It's now understood that one of Northern Ireland's best known developers, Sam Morrison, is buying the retail site.
And one Ballymena businessman has said there is "buzz" among the centre's tenants following news of the deal.
The Tower Centre's popularity was eclipsed when Fairhill Shopping Centre opened in 1991.
"If anybody (can turn it around) it will be Sam," the businessman said. "The Tower Centre was once the kingpin, for years. It stayed open late, and until 12 o'clock at Christmas.
"It used to be number one, and everyone in Ballymena went to it."
Supermarket Crazy Prices was once the anchor tenant in the main shopping destination in the centre of the town. Once it closed, the centre failed to attract a new primary retailer.
It now has several large high street businesses, including Primark and Dunnes.
"Other supermarkets weren't interested," he said.
"The big one in there is Primark, as well as Poundland, Boots and Dunnes.
"I've talked to business people in the town, and it has really given them a buzz.
"Sam Morrison has been one of the main players in Northern Ireland as far as retail is concerned."
Other businesses in the centre include B&M Bargains, Carphone Warehouse and Burger King.
The Tower Centre was being sold by commercial property firm Lambert Smith Hampton.
The firm did not wish comment about the deal.
It was formerly owned Barney Eastwood.
Some of his property portfolio, including the Tower Centre, had been financed by failed Irish lender Anglo Irish Bank, later known as Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC).
IBRC then sold some of its loans to US investment fund Lone Star in 2014, which is understood to be the party which put the Tower Centre on the market.
Sam Morrison's company Corbo had formerly owned another large retail business in the Co Antrim town, the Fairhill Shopping Centre.
It was sold to a UK-based investor for £46.5m. Rockspring Property Investment Managers snapped up the Co Antrim retail site.
It comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the centre had been put on the market along with two other major retail assets belonging to Sam Morrison's company Corbo - Altnagelvin Retail Park in Strabane and the Showgrounds in Omagh. Ulster Bank sold around £50m in loans relating to Corbo last year to a consortium made up of Deutsche Bank, Burlington Loan Management, KW Real Estate in Ireland and KW Investment in Luxembourg.
It's understood those funders have been key to putting the parks and shopping centre on the market.
Richard Bains from Rockspring said: "Fairhill Shopping Centre is a prime shopping centre with a strong national retailer base."