Sports Direct boss and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley tipped to buy Belfast retail arcade
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley could be set to buy a major retail site in the heart of Belfast city centre, it can be revealed.
The controversial billionaire businessman, who also owns the Sports Direct chain, was spotted in Belfast yesterday afternoon.
It's understood he could be about to take over Donegall Arcade - which houses businesses including HMV and TK Maxx.
It would be his first major property deal in Northern Ireland, and it comes just weeks after it was revealed Ashley is on course to take over Irish discount department store Heatons, which has 10 stores in Northern Ireland.
Donegall Arcade was formerly owned by Dungannon developer Peter Dolan. But many of his company's loans were absorbed into the Republic's bad bank Nama, with debts transferred to US vulture fund Cerberus.
Now, 51-year-old businessman Ashley - who is said to be worth more than £3bn - looks set to take over the retail site.
His fortune is spread across his retail empire, along with his stake in Newcastle United.
He formed Sports Direct in 1982. It's a company which now boasts 500 stores across the world.
Other retailers owned by the company include USC.
Sports Direct floated on London's FTSE 100 stock exchange back in 2007, and since then the share price has risen considerably.
A spokesman on behalf of Mr Ashley's Sports Direct chain did not wish to comment.
Donegall Arcade is currently almost fully occupied.
But one of its larger units is currently sitting empty after electronics chain Curry's pulled out this year.
It's understood that a sportswear chain other than Mr Ashley's Sports Direct had been earmarked to take over the £235,000-a-year spot in the arcade.
The unit is being marketed by commercial property firm CBRE.
Aside from the big name retailers, Donegall Arcade also houses Shuropody and Game.
Donegall Arcade had once operated under Peter Dolan's Jermon Developments, which purchased it for £26m in early 2005 and announced plans for its redevelopment.
But the company entered administration in 2011, with Keenan Corporate Finance appointed as the administrator.
Now, a planning application has been submitted on behalf of Keenan, which would see the replacement of windows at the first floor level, along with other alterations to the building.
Meanwhile, Mr Ashley is now on course to take over Irish discount department store Heatons.
And Belfast-born Heatons managing director John O'Neill - who has been with the company since 1986 - is among the directors to sell up to the billionaire's Sports Direct company.
Sports Direct already owned half of the shares in Heatons, but has now struck a €47.5m (£34.8m) deal to buy up the clothes and homeware retailer.
Heatons has 44 stores in the Republic of Ireland as well as its 10 outlets here.
Mr Ashley secured an initial agreement with minority shareholder Sandra Minor to buy a stake in Warrnambool, the holding company of Heatons.
When that deal goes through, Sports Direct will own more than half of the company.
Price Jermon paid for arcade in 2005 before entering administration