Friday 2 December 2016

Comer brothers plough €75m into property empire

Billionaire Galway builders may invest up to €200m more here, in the UK and Germany

John Reynolds

Published 08/05/2016 | 02:30

Luke (left) and Brian Comer
Luke (left) and Brian Comer

Billionaire Galway builders Brian and Luke Comer have spent more than €75m growing their property empire here, in Germany and in the UK over the past six months and plan to invest up to a further €200m in the three countries within the next 18 months.

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They have cash to invest having banked €300m from sales in the UK and Germany over the past 18 months, Luke Comer said. Since December they've added over 250 apartments and houses in Galway, Meath, Dublin and Kerry to their Irish portfolio, as well as four farms in Kildare with about 1,000 acres of land. The properties have mainly been bought from the so-called 'vulture' funds who bought large portfolios from Nama and the banks, he added, declining to give more specific details.

Among the purchases is the former Anglo Irish Bank building in Galway, as well as a city centre pub and hotel, which he declined to name because of confidentiality agreements in place. A three-acre development site in Roscommon town centre as well as a small amount of commercial and retail property were also snapped up by the Glenamaddy brothers, who started out in business as plasterers and are thought to be worth somewhere between €1bn and €3bn.

The fact that they already own development sites and existing properties in and around Eyre Square in Galway makes them one of the largest property owners in the region. Their recent purchases bring their total spend on investments here to more than €500m since the economic crash, making them one of the country's biggest property owners.

Also among the Galway properties is the 'Tribe' portfolio, consisting of a business park, two apartment blocks, a mixed-use development anchored by a Lidl store in Oranmore and a canalside retail and apartment block in Galway city. The Comers are believed to have paid less than €15m for the portfolio, which was originally built at a cost of about €40m.

In the UK, they paid €7m for two sites in London and €25m for an office block in the seaside town of Southend, in Essex. However, they didn't win the bidding on Twyford Abbey, a listed building on 25-acres in Ealing, west London ­­­- the same suburb in which they made their first big money, about £20m, on a development in the early 1990s.

In Berlin, they acquired a 4.5 acre site adjoining land they already own beside the River Spree, where they are eyeing a high-density residential development of perhaps 6,000 apartments. "Berlin's population is growing by at least 100,000 a year, so there would be a demand for some high-density housing on some of the land we own along a 2.5km stretch of the river," Liam Comer said.

Earlier this week, it was reported that the Comer Group's main bankers, Deutsche Bank have agreed a €77m three-year, non-recourse senior debt facility for subsidiary The Ballsbridge Partnership to complete a high-spec office, retail and apartment development on the 2.02 acre old Veterinary College site in Ballsbridge. The Comers bought the site for just €22.5m after the banking crash, at an 89pc discount to the €171.5m developer Ray Grehan paid for it at the height of the boom.

In an interview with this newspaper last year, he said the secret to he and his brother Brian's success was "timing, bottle and hard work, along with taking the openings you get and trying to be in the right place at the right time."

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