Friday 23 March 2018

Ronan pays debt to quit Nama - with other major developers set to follow

Johnny Ronan is the highest profile developer to get out of Nama following a final payment of €300m yesterday
Johnny Ronan is the highest profile developer to get out of Nama following a final payment of €300m yesterday
Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

Some of the biggest developers in the country are poised to follow Johnny Ronan out of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) after he repaid his debt to the State's bad bank yesterday.

Sean Mulryan's Ballymore Group is on course to exit Nama by the end of the year as agreed in the firm's business plan, according to industry sources.

And Gerry Gannon's Gannon Properties is also working towards an exit from the bad bank.

The moves come on the back of Mr Ronan becoming the highest profile developer to get out of Nama following a final payment of €300m yesterday.

Mr Ronan, who was one of the most recognisable faces of the Celtic Tiger, has completed a refinancing of his personal loans with the backing of the US investment group Colony Capital and the UK firm L&G Investments.

The deal frees up Mr Ronan and his company Ronan Group Real Estate to start building badly needed offices and other commercial property.

While Mr Ronan's exit means Colony Capital and M&G effectively replace Nama as Mr Ronan's creditor, it is hugely symbolic for both the developer and Nama.

For Mr Ronan, getting out from under the agency's feet means he is free to work as he sees fit, rather than having to present any development plans he may have to Nama for approval.

It also removes the stigma of being "in Nama", which has hung over him around for five years.

For Nama, meanwhile, the deal means it has removed the biggest developer from its books and will be seen as a key stop on the way to its winding down later this decade.

The agency has sharply increased the rate at which it is selling off its assets as it seeks to have 80pc of its work completed by the end of next year.

Mr Ronan is by far the biggest name to have left Nama 'by the front door'. Several are no longer in Nama since the agency put their assets into receivership, but few have managed to leave Nama after a mutual agreement.

The closest in size has been Graham Harris, a UK developer who exited after selling three apart-hotels in the UK and repaying an estimated €260m at par. Others such as Michael O'Flynn left Nama, after Nama sold the loans tied to him to a third party - usually a large private equity firm.

Unlike other deals that have seen developers get out of Nama, however, this deal has seen Colony and M&G repay the loans in full rather than buy them from Nama.

In a jubilant statement, Ronan Group Real Estate said the €300m deal was signed at 2.25pm on Wednesday and marked Mr Ronan's "full and committed return" to the property business. The refinancing has been secured against 24 properties controlled by Ronan Group, including the Connaught House office block in Burlington Road and Bewley's in Grafton Street.

Ronan Group's Guy Leech said the exit was a "great achievement" and added that all parties involved in the deal had made a "huge effort" to get it over the line.

"Ireland needs more quality housing and office development and the Ronan Group will meet that need," said Mr Leech.

The deal makes Mr Ronan the highest profile developer to exit Nama in recent months, and brings him firmly back into the property business.

Mr Ronan was one of the faces of the boom, and alongside Richard Barrett, his Treasury Holdings firm become renowned in Irish business. It built some of the best known properties in the country, including the likes of the Convention Centre, the Central Park business Park in Leopardstown, and Connaught House on Burlington Road.

Its Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street houses the NTMA and Nama.

Mr Ronan apparently agreed with Nama two months ago what he would have to do to exit the agency.

By nailing those terms down, he was then able to enter final negotiations with Colony and L&G for their backing. Colony is already backing another top developer, Paddy McKillen.

Irish Independent

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