Belfast Telegraph

Titanic firm is critical of landlord over new projects

By Margaret Canning

The company behind the Titanic Quarter has said landlord Belfast Harbour Commissioners poses the biggest obstacle towards its future development as a rivalry between the two heats up.

Titanic Island Ltd - which has carried out development on the site including the tourist exhibition Titanic Belfast, as well as flats and offices and a new exhibition centre - said in its company report that "difficulties advancing new projects with the agreement of Belfast Harbour" were dragging its progress down.

Titanic Island's report shows a pre-tax loss of £68,000, compared to a loss of £38m in 2013.

And a report for sister company Titanic Quarter Ltd reveals pre-tax losses of £2.15m for the year to the end of December 2014 - down from £37.5m a year before.

Earlier this year Titanic Island and its subsidiaries faced a change in its finance arrangements when around £64m in loans it had taken out with Ulster Bank were sold to US fund Davidson Kempner as part of Project Achill.

It is now banking with Davidson Kempner-linked company Burlington Loan Management.

Its high-profile chief executive David Gavaghan later stepped down but has not been replaced.

Titanic Island's report gives voice to a once unspoken rivalry between the two enterprises as the trust port today celebrates the grand opening of offices belonging to top US law firm Baker and McKenzie at Belfast Harbour's City Quays office block.

But Titanic Quarter Ltd is also aiming to develop its own office blocks on the site - and faces a battle to attract high-end tenants with the Harbour and other commercial property developers.

Belfast is contending with a dearth of Grade A offices, which is believed by some to hamper it in its race to attract big-name foreign direct investors to the province.

And there is also limited bank funding to pay for the new offices - though Invest NI recently said it will start to provide a form of funding for such developments.

There was no comment from Titanic Quarter yesterday - though a spokeswoman for Belfast Harbour yesterday poured cold water on suggestions of a rift.

"Both Belfast Harbour and Titanic Quarter Ltd wish to ensure that Titanic Quarter is developed to its full potential and will continue to work towards that common objective," she said.

"During 2015 Belfast Harbour has already helped progress a number of new developments in Titanic Quarter including a new 65,000 sq ft Titanic Exhibition Centre and a new 84-bedroom boutique hotel."

Titanic Quarter Ltd recently won planning permission to convert the former Harland & Wolff headquarters and drawing offices into a boutique hotel.

And it has also won planning permission for the Titanic Exhibition Centre, a temporary structure built to attract trade shows.

In its 2014 report, Belfast Harbour reported an 8% increase in pre-tax profits to a record £29.4m while turnover had climbed 4% to £52.6m. The body also said it would be investing £120m in new infrastructure projects in the next three years.

Belfast Telegraph