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BBC's Belfast studio building bought by Donegal hotel owners

Two Co Donegal brothers have bought BBC Northern Ireland's main studio building in Belfast.

Blackstaff House on Great Victoria Street is currently let by the BBC and houses the largest of their three Belfast studios, Studio A.

Edmund and Patrick Simpson, owners of Belfast's Benedicts Hotel, made the purchase through funding from Barclays Corporate, the business wing of Barclays.

The purchase was made through a property unit trust managed by Callender Street Trustees.

The unit trust is a special purpose vehicle, created by business advisory firm BDO, which facilitated the purchase from the building's UK investor owners.

Edmund Simpson said the investment was an exciting addition to their property portfolio.

He said: "We think it's a good thing that Blackstaff House will be locally owned for the foreseeable future. It'll be business as usual at the BBC, we won't be changing a thing."

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The business partners said they had avoided purchases for around five years, as it became clear that the market was growing increasingly unstable.

Mr Simpson said: "Yields had dropped. We had seen recessions before, but never one where the banks themselves ended up in trouble."

The businessmen have pursued a strategy of asset disposal when prices were still high, preparing for a time when investment would be more lucrative.

"We sold whatever we could, including a small Irish newspaper we owned called the Inish Times, with the idea of reinvestment when the time was right."

Gavin Campbell, relationship director at Barclays Corporate, said: "This deal is one of a small number of commercial property investments conducted locally in the past year and it is a good example of the type of strategic and innovative transactions that are possible despite difficult market conditions."

Sean Lavery, tax partner at BDO, described the Simpsons' decision as a "significant investment by local entrepreneurs in the city centre". He said: "This transaction is a demonstration of the confidence still in the market for prime real estate deals."


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