Belfast Telegraph

Co Down property firm buys former Nama asset in Scotland

By John Mulgrew

A Co Down property firm has bought a shopping centre in Scotland that was previously part of the controversial Project Eagle from vulture fund Cerberus.

Wirefox snapped up Southergate Centre in Dumfries. It was on the market for £6.75m, but it is understood that it went for less than the asking price.

Michael Wright, the director of asset management at the firm - which is run by Bernard Eastwood, the grandson of former bookmaker Barney Eastwood - said it was "business as usual" following the Brexit vote.

Project Eagle was the controversial £1.3bn Northern Ireland loan portfolio of the Republic's bad bank Nama. It was sold to US fund Cerberus in 2014.

Mr Wright explained that the deal followed the firm's purchase of several Belfast city centre properties, including Longbridge House and Oxford and Gloucester House.

The company has also bought three residential developments in Scotland. Mr Wright said that the sites were also part of a Cerberus portfolio that it purchased last year.

"We have done a lot with Longbridge House, Oxford and Gloucester House,and Ballantine Garden Village in Lisburn, so basically, it's an opportunity to diversify the portfolio," the asset management director added. We see good opportunity in Scotland."

He said the country opened up a wider range of possibilities, given its market size.

Mr Wright added the Cerberus portfolio the company purchased was "substantial".

The centre features 14 units, of which 12 are currently let. The businesses include Costa, EE, Subway, Ladbrokes and HSBC.

Mr Wright said the company was going strong despite nerves caused the EU referendum.

"Even post-Brexit, we are pretty positive and this (deal) was completed (after the vote)," he explained. "Brexit came when we were in the middle of summer. We are seeing it as business as usual - whether that is us or others, we are finding that across the board."

He said the business had "absolutely" benefited from the tranches of distressed assets coming on the market over the last few years following the property crash.

"With the likes of Southergate, we can enhance the aesthetics. No work has been carried out for quite a while -that's where we saw great opportunity," he said.

And he said he expected the flow of distressed property sales post-crash to continue for at least two years.

"Cerberus are continuing to buy... they still want to rebalance the books. We are looking at another couple of years until they are flushed through," he added.

Belfast Telegraph