Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Landmark Belfast tower block Obel enters administration

Obel complex: 'A south-facing glazed oven'

Administrators have been appointed to take control of the tallest building in Ireland, The Obel.

In what is arguably one of the most symbolic victims of the property crash, the 85m-high landmark residential complex has been effectively “repossessed”.

The record-breaking Obel consists of a 28-storey residential tower and an adjoining six-storey office block.

At the time of its construction it was described as “a statement of confidence in the future”.

It has now emerged administrators have been appointed to Obel Ltd, Obel Offices Ltd and Donegall Quay Ltd.

The three firms control the residential complex.

According to the BBC, the main firm, Donegall Quay, is unable to pay debts to the former Bank of Scotland Ireland (BoSI) —believed to be more than £51m.

Tenants and owners of apartments in the development will not be affected by the move.

BoSI has been shut down by its parent company, Lloyds Banking Group.

Lloyds sold £1.47bn of BoSI loans to an investment company for just £149m, equating to a 90% loss.

The Obel complex was launched onto the market in 2005 during the property boom as a mixed-use development at Belfast’s Donegall Quay.

It was originally planned to consist of the tower superstructure, housing 282 apartments, an eight-storey hotel building and

41,000 sq ft of office space with eateries and retail units on the ground floor.

The smaller building next to the tower was to house a hotel but those plans fell through.

Dozens of apartments were sold off mainly to buy-to-let investors.

It is understood at least a third remain unsold.

In October this year the international law firm Allen & Overy rented out five of the six floors of the office building.

The Obel project was originally backed by a consortium of developers, but in 2008 the Blackbourne family bought out the partners with the backing of BoSI.

One of the owners, Aaron Blackbourne, was unavailable for comment.

Background

  • 4,565 windows
  • 28 storeys high
  • £75m to build
  • 282 apartments, studios, duplexes and penthouses.
  • Around a third are sold.
  • The ownership of another third is in dispute.
  • In April, only around 100 apartments were occupied, while much of the office space remains empty.
  • The crane used to build the structure was 106 metres tall.\[s.rowe\]lPlans for a 144-bedroom hotel were abandoned.
  • Cost of one-bedroom studio at £90,000 in 2005 jumped to £160,000 in 2007.

*April 2012: One-bedroomed flat was £87,500

From a beacon of new city to white elephant

Is this the strongest symbol yet of boom to bust?

In 2005 when the luxury £75m Obel development was launched the property market was soaring to new heights.

Belfast’s new 28-storey tower was set to transform the face of the city’s waterfront. A one-bedroom studio in the 85m high building would cost £90,000 and a penthouse £475,000.

It had the most expensive per-square-foot average price in the city and wanted to offer people the chance to live, work and play in a rejuvenated capital.

Buyers wanting to own a piece of the landmark snapped up apartments within two days — before construction began. By 2007, as the market boomed, so did the prices at the Obel, with the studio apartments hitting £160,000.

Penthouses were snapped up for a whopping £725,000.

In 2008 it emerged the developers, Karl Properties, bought out their venture partners.

As tough times loomed the £160,000 ‘studio' flats were sold as “ideal for first-time buyers”.

When the property bubble burst in 2009 so did prices. In April 2012 a one-bedroom flat was advertised at £87,500.

It was nominated as one of the UK’s worst designed buildings and labelled as Belfast’s “tallest white elephant”.

In 2011 the owners, Donegall Quay Ltd, revealed that £4m had been lost off its original £54m valuation in 2009.

In April 2011 only around 100 apartments were understood to be occupied, while much of its office space remains empty.

Then it was announced that international law company Allen & Overy would occupy all of its available office accommodation.

But debts still rose.

The Obel was to become a beacon for the new city. Now it appears that beacon has dimmed.

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