Belfast Telegraph

Belfast student bar The Elms could become Tesco store

By Margaret Canning

A former Botanic Inns pub in south Belfast is under consideration by Tesco for conversion into a convenience store, the Belfast Telegraph understands.

The supermarket giant is thought to have looked at The Elms on University Road as a potential location for a Tesco Express because it would bring with it a coveted licence to sell alcohol.

The student haunt went on the open market yesterday through property agents BTW Shiells with a price tag of £900,000.

It’s the first Botanic Inns pub to hit the market since the firm dramatically went into administration five weeks ago.

No-one from Tesco or agents BTW Shiells was available for comment yesterday — but a number of insiders in the property and pub trades said Tesco had eyed the site in recent months.

Tesco boss Philip Clarke has indicated it has another 830 stores in the pipeline, mostly in the smaller Tesco Express format.

Just three weeks ago it opened a Tesco Express at the Ormeau Bakery apartment development, also in south Belfast.

Economist John Simpson said: “Tesco are still ambitious, there’s no doubt about that. They will be influenced by the geography of a business like The Elms, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were interested in that area.”

The Apartment, The Kitchen Bar, McHugh’s, Parador, Molly Brown’s, Denvir’s Hotel and Ryan’s Bar — all formerly held by Botanic Inns Ltd parent company Kurkova — will hit the market later this month.

The Elms was one of six pubs in Botanic Inns Limited which Ulster Bank put into administration last month along with Kurkova over debts of around £6.5m.

It’s believed the indebted business had secured agreement to continue in business as Horatio Taverns with its chief supplier Diageo and the Republic’s bad bank, Nama — which controls the freehold of six of its pubs — until the move by the bank.

Less than a week later, the six Botanic Inns Ltd pubs were acquired by the Horatio Group —the new brand formed by Botanic Inns managing director Stephen Magorrian — after fresh negotiations with Nama.

The Horatio Group had no comment to make yesterday — but it’s understood The Elms is not as profitable as others in the group.

The Republic’s bad bank Nama was also a party to the decision to sell The Elms, but would not comment yesterday.

The pubs had been sold to two businessmen from Co Clare in 2005. Their bank loans were later absorbed by Nama and their companies, Lanyon and Lisk, went into administration.

Botanic Inns Ltd — and in turn, Horatio Group — has only a leasehold interest in the six pubs.

Background

Botanic Inns became the biggest name in pubs in Northern Ireland over the 2000s but its companies, Botanic Inns Ltd and Kurkova Ltd, were put into administration by Ulster Bank on May 7. The Elms, in south Belfast, acquired by the Horatio Group shortly after the administration, is now the first to be put on the open market

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