House of Fraser deal to stay in Belfast lifts retail gloom
News that House of Fraser Belfast has agreed a new long-term lease with Victoria Square, safeguarding 500 jobs and committing to a £10m revamp, has created a "buoyant mood" in Belfast, a retail expert said.
The agreement between House of Fraser, now owned by Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley, and Commerz Real, the owner of Victoria Square, will see the store undergo a £10m renovation which is due to begin "mid-2019".
The project is expected to encourage a "plethora of luxury and contemporary brands" into the store, "creating the next generation of elevated department stores", said the retailer.
Michael Murray, head of elevation at Sports Direct, said: 'This marks a significant moment in the turnaround of House of Fraser and we are committed to investing and remodelling this popular store.
"The landlord was very proactive and reasonable, and as a result we will elevate and invest in the store in order to create Belfast's first luxury department store."
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the agreement is good news for Belfast's retail landscape. He said: "It's great that one of Belfast's flagship retail offers has cemented its relationship in Victoria Square.
"There are a lot of things affecting retailers here, the biggest of those being business rates, but this news has created a more buoyant mood and with the new Primark due to open and the opening of Castle Street to pedestrians, there is a feeling that the city is starting to get back to normal."
The future of many House of Fraser stores in the UK was uncertain last year when Mike Ashley took over the brand in the summer. At the time he said he would enter into talks with landlords to secure cheaper leases.
The new Belfast contract follows a recent agreement between the retailer and Intu, a shopping complex owner which has centres in Norwich, Thurrock, Gasteshead and Nottingham.
The stores in those Intu centres had been earmarked for closure, as neither party could reach an agreement, but Mr Ashley's company announced two weeks ago that after "constructive discussions" they will stay open.
Mr Ashley has previously made public statements attacking the "greedy landlords" of House of Fraser stores.
It is understood many landlords were reluctant to agree to the low rents Mr Ashley demanded.
Katharina von Schacky, global head of shopping at Commerz Real, said: "We worked very closely with House of Fraser to secure the new long-term lease in the city centre. This will further strengthen Belfast and it shows the unique position Victoria Square has in the Belfast region."
The business agreement involved James Keany of CBRE, which advised House of Fraser. Criona Collins, Lambert Smith Hampton and Stuart Moncur, Savills acted as joint agents on behalf of Commerz Real.
Following his acquisition of the chain in August, Mr Ashley pledged to save around 47 of House of Fraser's 59 outlets.