Belfast Telegraph

Forward sale of Belfast student accommodation in total deals of £40m

By Margaret Canning

Two student developments in Belfast have been ‘forward sold’ by their developer in deals worth over £40m, it has emerged.

A US investment fund is to acquire one development at the former Athletic Stores in Belfast for £26m when work is completed.

The 14-storey, 340-bed project on Queen Street has been subjected to a ‘forward-fund investment’ by UK developer Watkin Jones and Co Down firm Lacuna Developments. 

That means the development will change hands and be acquired by the US fund once it’s finished.

And the Dublin Road development, also by a joint venture of Lacuna and Watkin Jones, has also been subjected to a ‘forward sale’ but to a different investor.

The US institution which is investing in the Athletic Stores site is making its first investment in Northern Ireland.

Watkin Jones and Lacuna have also transformed the former Belfast Met Building on College Square East into student flats called John Bell House.

The Athletic Stores scheme will involve retaining the facade of the building, a former Victorian warehouse. And it's understood other internal features such as cast iron columns and timber floors will be taken out but restored and re-fitted.

A 24-storey student block in Cardiff city centre is also being forward-sold by Watkin Jones to another investor.

Anthony Best, managing director of Lacuna Developments, told the BBC that the deals “illustrate confidence from institutional investors in backing Belfast’s purpose-built student accommodation”.

Mark Watkin Jones, chief executive officer of Watkin Jones, said:  “We are delighted to announce today that we have forward sold our developments in Cardiff and Belfast to two institutional investors in purpose built student accommodation, which further underpins the visibility of our earnings and cashflow. 

“The interest in the sector remains strong.”

Earlier plans to completely demolish the Athletic Stores building — a former Victorian warehouse — were opposed by architectural groups.

Belfast Telegraph