Belfast Telegraph

Eastwood property firm 'could bid for CastleCourt'

By John Mulgrew

A Northern Ireland property firm is in talks to buy the CastleCourt shopping centre in Belfast, it has been reported.

Wirefox - which is run by BJ Eastwood, the grandson of former bookmaker Barney Eastwood - is understood to be eyeing up the city centre retail site, according to CoStar News.

CastleCourt has been owned by Hermes property fund since 2012. A spokesman for Wirefox said it does not comment on "speculation and rumour".

CastleCourt was not available for comment.

The company underwent a rebrand in 2015 after 25 years in business.

CastleCourt, which houses Debenhams and Gap among other stores, revamped its signage and underwent a centre rebrand in a bid to give a fresh look to the Royal Avenue retail stalwart, which has been somewhat overshadowed since the opening of nearby Victoria Square.

Other stores under its roof include menswear brand Burton and Boots.

Built by John Laing in the late 1980s, in its early days it was targeted by the IRA. The centre was bombed five times during its construction and four times after it opened in 1990.

CastleCourt currently has around 80 stores and draws 13 million shoppers every year.

The site was formerly occupied by an Army barracks and the luxury Grand Central Hotel, a venue that played host to the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Winston Churchill in its heyday.

The potential sale of CastleCourt could be the latest in a series of big retail park and shopping centre sales here over the last two years.

Last month retail park Junction One's £30m transformation was unveiled, including a name change.

The Co Antrim retail park is expanding with 20 new shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as a cinema.

It's also set to undergo a name change and will be rebranded as 'The Junction'.

The plans also show the retail park's new branding.

Fresh and detailed plans show that a number of big names will be added to the centre, including a new Starbucks drive-through.

The first phase will see two drive-through restaurants being built, along with a "new direct road cutting through the site".

Junction One was sold for £40m alongside The Outlet in Banbridge to Lotus Group and Tristan Capital in 2016.

The Outlet now says it is set for double-digit growth on its 10th anniversary, just one year after the business was sold off for a fraction of its original cost.

It opened its doors in April 2007 as part of a £70m investment.

It employs around 500 full-time and part-time staff working at brands such as Gap, Nike and LK Bennett. It attracts 1.6 million visitors a year.

Centre manager Chris Nelmes said while there had been challenging times over the last decade, that business was now on the up.

Belfast Telegraph