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Sheridan Group looks east for new investments

By Robin Morton

The Belfast property development company which was behind the £100m Odyssey complex today unveiled plans for similar developments in emerging European economies.

Sheridan Group, which is chaired by Peter Curistan, is now actively investigating major investment opportunities in Cyprus and Croatia.

And it is even exploring the possibility of a leisure cum retail and entertainment venture in troubled Beirut.

Peter Holmes, chief executive of Sheridan Group, said they believed that new air links to countries such as Croatia meant they were ripe for development.

The move comes as Sheridan awaits the opening on October 22 of its High Court challenge to the Government's decision to strip it of preferred developer status on the riverfront Queen's Quay project.

But Mr Holmes insisted that the overseas move, which has involved the setting up of a subsidiary company in Cyprus, did not mean Sheridan was turning its back on Northern Ireland.

He said: "We are still actively involved in the Northern Ireland development scene and indeed we are one of the bidders for Belfast City Council's proposed Ormeau Park stadium.

" Although we are concerned about the time it is taking to settle the debate over the stadium, we feel very much that Belfast is the right location and Ormeau Park the ideal spot."

Mr Holmes said that depending on planning issues being settled, it would be possible to develop and build a 25,000 seat stadium at Ormeau Park within a five-year timeframe.

Mr Curistan said that following a number of visits to Cyprus and the eastern European area, he was excited by the potential of the region and its " can do" approach.

He said Cyprus had a pivotal position in that it offered easy access to the countries in which Sheridan Group was interested.

The new subsidiary company is based in Nicosia and three local directors with specialist knowledge of the development scene have been appointed.

Mr Holmes said: "We believe that the Odyssey concept would work well in other locations.

"We have an open mind as to whether we will be wholly responsible for a development, go in on a joint venture or act in a consultancy basis."

Equity for the expansion will come from the £110m that Sheridan Group hopes to net when it disposes of its interest in the Odyssey Pavilion, the IMAX cinema and the Tannery Building at King Street in Belfast.

Negotiations are now being finalised with Dublin company Alburn Holdings, which is headed by businessman Noel Smyth, and the deal is due to be signed off at the end of October.

Sheridan Group is also preparing to dispose of two of its three remaining interests at the Odyssey - the Odyssey Bowl and Sheridan Live, the main gateway to the development, leaving it with just Bar Seven.

Mr Holmes said: "We see ourselves as developers, not holders of property or operators, and it is time for us to move on and look at new opportunities.

"The eastern Mediterranean is opening up and as tourism expands we feel it is the right time for us to become involved."

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