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CastleCourt to be bought by Co Down firm for £125m 'within weeks'

Wirefox will complete takeover of famous Belfast retail centre

By John Mulgrew

A deal to buy Belfast's CastleCourt is set to be complete in the next couple of weeks in a deal worth £125m, it can be revealed.

Co Down property firm Wirefox, headed by BJ Eastwood, is understood to have been eyeing up the city centre retail site for some time.

Now, it's understood contracts are due to be exchanged for the property this month. CastleCourt has been owned by Hermes property fund since 2012.

Wirefox said it does not comment on "speculation and rumour". No one from CastleCourt wished to comment.

The sale of one of Northern Ireland's best-known shopping centres will be one of the largest single commercial property deals to take place here in recent years.

In 2015, CastleCourt underwent a rebrand after 25 years in business.

The Royal Avenue shopping spot, which houses Debenhams and Boots among other stores, revamped its signage and underwent a rebrand in a bid to give a fresh look to the retail centre, which has been overshadowed since the opening of nearby Victoria Square.

Wirefox's interest in taking on the major Belfast commercial property asset was first reported by CoStar News back in April.

Built by John Laing in the late 1980s, CastleCourt was targeted by the IRA in its early days. The centre was bombed five times during its construction and four times after it opened in 1990.

CastleCourt currently has around 80 stores and draws 13 million shoppers every year.

The site was formerly occupied by an Army barracks and the Grand Central Hotel, a venue that played host to guests like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Wirefox has purchased a raft of major retail and office developments across the UK in the last 12 months.

That includes a £35m office portfolio in Scotland. It has taken on nine buildings covering 400,000sq ft of office space close to Glasgow. The Rockford property portfolio includes buildings housing IBM, three buildings at Trilogy Business Park and 1 Forrest Gate at Tannochside Business Park.

Last month it emerged the home of Bittles bar had been sold to the company.

The Holywood firm has refurbishment plans for the building, which includes new office space.

Wirefox has also bought Silvan House in Edinburgh, which includes almost 90,000sq ft of office space let to the Scottish Government.

If the £125m sale of CastleCourt completes this month, it will be one of the biggest single commercial property deals in Northern Ireland over the last few years.

In 2015, Bangor shopping centre Bloomfield was sold for £54.5m to London investment firm Ellandi and Tristan Capital Partners.

Other deals included Fairhill in Ballymena, which went for more than £45m.

And Junction One and The Outlet - two of Northern Ireland's biggest shopping retail parks - were sold to Lotus Group for £40m. Meanwhile, Forestside in south Belfast and Foyleside in Londonderry have gone on the market, for around £150m.

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