Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena's Fairhill Shopping Centre for sale with £52m price tag

Exclusive by Margaret Canning

Ballymena's Fairhill Shopping Centre - the jewel in the crown of property developer Sam Morrison - is on the market for £52.5m, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The centre had been offered for sale along with two other major retail assets belonging to Mr Morrison's company Corbo - Altnagelvin Retail Park in Strabane and the Showgrounds in Omagh.

It's understood the Altnagelvin and Omagh properties have already been disposed of and one possibility is that Mr Morrison's company Corbo may refinance so that it can buy Fairhill.

Ulster Bank sold around £50m in loans relating to Corbo last year to a consortium made up of Deutsche Bank, Burlington Loan Management, KW Real Estate in Ireland and KW Investment in Luxembourg. It's understood those funders have been key to putting the parks and shopping centre on the market.

It is understood agents CBRE have been appointed to sell the retail parks and shopping centre but neither CBRE nor Corbo would comment.

Mr Morrison has been a low-profile but influential player on Northern Ireland's property scene for decades and has also been a fixture of The Sunday Times Rich Lists.

Colm Murphy, the author of the Sunday Times Rich List, said Mr Morrison had "quietly built up one of the most impressive retail portfolios not only on the island of Ireland but on both islands, starting from almost nothing".

"It is unusual for developers to build shopping centres and hold on to them as most of the value is in site purchase, building and first letting," Mr Murphy added.

"They are then generally sold on to pension funds to larger investment companies. Mr Morrison has a strong track record in identifying opportunities and realising them.

"So I would not say we have seen the last of him. He has unrivalled knowledge, particularly in Northern Ireland, of retail opportunities."

In October and November last year, Mr Morrison and other company officers established two corporate entities in Scotland, OBROC Limited Partnership and OBROC General Partner Ltd.

According to financial statements filed for Corbo Ltd for February to October 2014, properties in main company Corbo Ltd were transferred to the new limited partnership - funded by a new loan facility from Deutsche Bank, Burlington Loan Management, KW Real Estate in Ireland and KW Investment in Luxembourg. Remaining assets in Corbo Ltd were financed by a loan from Bank of Ireland.

Corbo has sold a large number of assets in recent years with company chief executive Stephen Kirkpatrick stating in 2010 that the firm was building a "war chest" for acquisitions.

Last year it sold Shane Retail Park on Boucher Road in south Belfast and north Belfast's Cityside Retail Park. The sell-offs began in 2010 when Corbo's prime site at Belfast's Donegall Place home of M&S was sold to CBRE Investors for £8.75m.

It also sold Holland Market Retail Park and Winfrey Avenue Retail Park, both in Spalding in England, Lemon Quay in Truro and Sainsbury's in Braidwater Retail Park in Ballymena for a combined £74m.

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