Belfast Telegraph

Paddy McKillen targets flagship Dublin store Clerys for retail and tourism hub

By Tom Lyons

The American owner of Clerys, the iconic Dublin department store, are in talks to sell the business to Belfast property investor Paddy McKillen – less than a year after they bought it.

The board of Gordon Brothers Group, one of the United States' oldest restructuring specialists, is considering an ambitious proposal from McKillen to buy the store but has yet to make up its mind.

McKillen's vision for Clerys would reinvent the store as both a major retail and a tourist centre, which would raise the standard of offering on the capital's main thoroughfare, O'Connell Street, which is run down in places.

"We appreciate the opportunity to look at a proposal for the legendary Clerys," said a spokeswoman for the dapper Belfast businessman.

The exact terms of McKillen's proposal are not known but he is believed to have offered about €2m (£1.7m) to buy the business as well as agreeing to take on its debts of €14m (£12m) owed to Bank of Ireland.

He is thought to have a number of partners interested in backing him in the bid.

Gordon Brothers only paid about €1m (£0.86m) for the business so the deal could be attractive to it as it would effectively double the fund's money in less than a year since they bought it out of receivership.

The store had previously been owned by the Guiney family for 70 years, who lost control of the business after Bank of Ireland installed a receiver.

Bank of Ireland agreed to write off €11m (£9.5m) in borrowings as part of its deal with Gordon Brothers. Boston-based Gordon Brothers, which works on $50bn (£32.5bn) worth of transactions and appraisals annually, has already invested in improving Clerys.

However, it has yet to implement a more radical shake-up of the store by bringing in a new, large anchor tenant to go alongside existing retail units and concessions.

Gordon Brothers is now having to invest more in the store after it incurred damage during a period of heavy rainfall combined with thunder and lightning last Wednesday night. McKillen is understood to have a design team working on how best to reinvent Clerys.

One of the options he is considering is expanding its food offerings by bringing in Wagamama, an Asian-style restaurant, which has already proven a success for him on Dublin's South King Street. The restaurant serves wine from his French vineyard.

McKillen has also held talks with Blarney Woollen Mills, the owners of Meadows and Byrne, about opening a flagship tourist-friendly homewares outlet to position Clerys as a destination store.

The Blarney Woollen Mills Group employs about 500 people and, despite the downturn, has been in expansion mode. It is owned by members of the Kelleher business family, including Freda Hayes. It merged with Meadows and Byrne, which was founded by Ms Hayes in the 1990s.

McKillen has a proven track record in retail development, co-founding the Jervis Centre in Dublin, which has been a big success. Despite the Republic's recession, he has managed to convince popular global retailers like Forever 21 and Abercrombie & Fitch to set up shop here.

His companies have substantial debts to IBRC, the former Anglo Irish Bank, which is now in liquidation, and McKillen is also locked in a bitter legal dispute with billionaire British twins the Barclay brothers.

Despite this, McKillen and his business partners have shown no signs of losing their entrepreneurial spirit and have continued to expand.

Earlier this year, McKillen and Tony Leonard's company, Clarendon Properties, bought the former National Irish Bank building on College Green from Danske Bank for close to €4.5m (£3.9m).

Fashion giant H&M is lined up to occupy the building when it opens.

Belfast Telegraph