THE head of one of the country’s largest property development companies has confirmed that they have checked out Debenhams former flagship store in Cork city, which is currently on the market for €20m.
Michael O’Flynn, CEO of the O’Flynn Group, told the Irish Examiner that “We have looked at it”, but he would not be drawn on whether they are still in the running for the landmark St Patrick’s Street property.
The O’Flynn Group is also involved in plans for an ambitious expansion of the nearby Penneys store on St Patrick’s Street which will increase the size by almost 50%. While Cork City Council granted planning last May, the project has been held-up by an appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Penneys own an entire block on the main street having spent a decade on site assemblage.
Separately, more than five contenders are vying for the 151,000 sq ft Debenham premises, with the latest reports suggesting that Dublin-based investment firm Ballybunion Capital, founded by Cahir entrepreneur/asset manager/ solicitor, Patrick O’Sullivan, is among those in the running. Ballybunion Capital was acquired by the UK-based JTC Group last year, who opened new offices on Dublin’s Mespil Road.
Paddy McKillen/Tony Leonard-controlled Clarendon Properties, who own Merchants Quay shopping centre, which adjoins Debenhams, have ruled themselves out saying they are “not involved”.
Other possible bidders with a track record of development in Cork City include John Cleary Developments (JCD), who redeveloped the former Capitol cinema and O’Callaghan Properties (OCP), who developed Merchant’s Quay.
In addition to developers, others thought to have shown interest in acquiring the building include the Fraser Group, who already own the across-the-street former Eason premises at 113-115 St Patrick’s Street, and Irish Life, who own several properties on the main street.
Debenhams, once home to Roches Stores, was put on the market in August, along with the former Debenhams store on Dublin’s Henry Street, with the latter c210,000 sq ft premises for sale for €55m.
Swedish flatpack furniture giant Ikea is thought to be one of a number of parties interested in the Henry Street premises, with the Fraser Group name also being bandied.
Among the suggestions put forward for future use of the Cork property, which is on a 1.32 acre site, are to retain retail at the front section of the building, while using the rear for accommodation. A concept proposal drawn up by an architect for a mixed-use scheme includes a proposal for a 220-room hotel and 47 residential units along Maylor Street. There may be options too for an Approved Housing Body to come in, or student accommodation operators. An upstairs “entertainment centre” including a cinema, has also been mooted.
Reinvigorating the flagship building is seen as key to the revitalization of St Patrick Street which was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been vacant since Debenhams pulled out in May 2020 when Debenhams Ireland went into liquidation.
Receivers Grant Thornton were appointed by Bank of Ireland to oversee the sale of both Cork and Dublin stores and they appointed Cushman & Wakefield to bring the property to market.
The Cork store had operated as Roches Stores for the bones of a century before the Roche family leased it to Debenhams in 2006.
The Roche family previously put the St Patrick’s Street premises (excluding the main shopping mall, SuperValu section, and multi-storey carpark) up for sale four years ago with Colliers, with an unconfirmed price of €70-€75m cited, for a 5% return, but the market didn’t bite.
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