A new-build office in Belfast city centre has been sold for £87m in the biggest ever office sale in Northern Ireland.
Property developer Oakland Holdings said it had sold the freehold of Merchant Square in Belfast to an unidentified Middle Eastern investor.
It’s also one of the biggest regional office deals to close in the UK since the Covid-19 pandemic, which has ushered in an era of home-working and predictions of less use of offices in future.
The nine-floor building at Wellington Place had been described as a £70m investment by Oakland Holdings, which is led by managing director Gareth Graham.
It’s already full let to business advisory firm PwC — in Northern Ireland’s biggest office letting — but had been built speculatively by Oakland with no tenant secured in advance.
Merchant Square will be PwC’s biggest office outside London, with space for 3,000 staff.
Guy Hollis of Oakland Holdings said: “We are proud to have created one of the biggest commercial property schemes in Northern Ireland.
“Five years ago, Merchant Square was a concept for a quality speculative building which reflected the demand for office space in Belfast.
“Now built and fully let, it has attracted interest from global investors. Merchant Square is an indication of what Belfast can achieve.”
Noel Lander, director at JLL, said: “The landmark sale of Merchant Square demonstrates the investor appetite for best in class regional offices with secure income streams and strong environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) credentials.”
Oakland was advised by JLL, A&L Goodbody and KPMG. The purchaser was advised by SPS Investment, King & Spalding International LLP, TLT LLP and BDO LLP.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph earlier this year, Kevin MacAllister, PwC Northern Ireland regional market lead, said its move into the new offices — expected later this year — coincided with a new era in work. “Undoubtedly the world of working and how we deliver professional services will change, but it’s not either/or, office or home working. We’ll be into a much more blended, flexible working regime.
“We’ve been developing it quite closely with our people, and quite a significant part of the floor space will be a wellbeing area. We’ll be providing things like onsite healthcare with GP services, yoga classes — anything that has a wellbeing angle to it.”
He added: “We’re trying to bridge the gap between home and office and sort of blur the lines a little bit, so you make an office an extension of home.”
The NI Civil Service has said it’s consulting with trade unions on a future remote working policy for its staff of 23,000.