Spotlight on Belfast House of Fraser as Sports Direct is in landlord talks
THE future of Belfast’s House of Fraser store is under the spotlight, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal, after its landlord confirmed it’s now in contact with the chain’s new owners.
House of Fraser Belfast landlord Commerz Real told this newspaper it was in “contact” with Sports Direct, led by tycoon Mike Ashley, which bought the retailer out of administration last month. Sports Direct announced at the weekend that it will close down House of Fraser shops in Edinburgh, Swindon and Hull, blaming landlords for failing to come to new terms with them as owners.
A spokesman for Commerz Real told the Belfast Telegraph: “We do not have any indication that House of Fraser will close in our centre, and we are at a very early stage in the talks with Sports Direct.
“As I said, we have been very satisfied with House of Fraser performance and would like to further co-operate with them.”
Last month Commerz Real said it had been happy with how the retailer had performed here, but added that “we are also experiencing growing interest in the rental space from other well-known market players”.
Sports Direct did not respond to requests for details on its plan for the 120,000 sq ft House of Fraser superstore in Belfast, the anchor tenant at Victoria Square shopping centre.
Billionaire businessman Ashley has called landlords who have failed to come to new terms by offering rent reductions “greedy”. Edinburgh is the first Scottish House of Fraser to face the chop out of a total of four.
Aodhan Connolly, the head of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, welcomed news of talks opening between the owners of Victoria Square and Sports Direct.
“The city centre of Belfast has already seen a lot of shops close down and consumers would like the certainty of knowing what will happen to House of Fraser. Hopefully it will be concluded very quickly.”
He said the continued success of the anchor store in Victoria Square was crucial to the city of Belfast.
“Ten years on from when it was built, Victoria Square is still the most impressive retail property that we have in Northern Ireland,” Mr Connolly continued.
He believed it was well positioned when compared to many of the House of Fraser’s 58 other stores. “House of Fraser Belfast is a new property and the company had an input into how it was built. It fits House of Fraser like a glove. House of Fraser may not be that symbiotic with other properties it’s in, but in Belfast they were made for each other,” he said.
But he added that Commerz Real would easily find another tenant for the unit, were it to become vacant. “Victoria Square is a landmark retail property and if it did come up for rental, then it wouldn’t stay on the market for long,” Mr Connolly commented.
Upbeat: Aodhan Connolly