Sunday 21 April 2019

Barrington, O'Rourke join €300m Willett REIT

TRUST: Colm Barrington
TRUST: Colm Barrington

Tom Lyons

A high-powered board including Colm Barrington, the aviation finance entrepreneur and former Aer Lingus chairman, and ex-managing partner of KPMG Terence O'Rourke, has been formed ahead of the launch of a new €300m real estate investment trust by WK Nowlan, an Irish property advisory firm, and Willett Companies, an American investment company.

The new real estate investment trust (REIT) plans to appoint 25-year property veteran Danny Kitchen as non-executive chairman ahead of its flotation, which is expected to take place in mid-to-late October.

Kitchen's highest profile roles were as finance director of Green Property, deputy chief executive of Gerald Ronson's Heron International, and as the state-appointed chair of Irish Nationwide during the financial crisis.

He serves as a non-executive director of LXB Retail Properties and as non-executive chair of Workspace Group, a €700m- valued property group listed in London.

Stewart Harrington, a chartered surveyor who was one of the founding partners of Harrington Bannon Chartered Surveyors, is also understood to be lined up as a non-executive director. He has similar positions on the boards of BWG, the owner of Spar, and the Stafford Group, the energy and sports retail business.

Securing a high-quality board is vital to WK Nowlan and Willett Companies' plans to raise funds for its Reit.

Like Green Property, which successfully launched a €310m Reit in July, it is a blind trust, which will not identify property purchases before its launch so investors are required to back it 'blind'.

Investors in these scenarios require both strong management and boards to identify the best deals to do.

WK Nowlan is headed by father-and-son team Bill and Kevin Nowlan. Kevin Nowlan left Nama last December, where he worked as a portfolio manager for clients including Sean Dunne, in order to rejoin the family firm. Bill Nowlan was head of property investment for Irish Life before founding his own firm in 1995. Over the last two years he was one of the main people campaigning to have legislation in place to allow the Reit concept take off in Ireland.

Willett Companies was founded by Irishman Frank Kenny in the early Nineties and gradually it built up a property portfolio with a current value of between $750m and $1bn.

Recent transactions include selling a prestigious building in Soho, New York, for €93m (over two and-a-half times its original purchase price) on the behalf of Irish and American investors.

The promoters have hired Goodbody Stockbrokers to advise them domestically and they are also thought to be close to appointing international advisers.

In January, Kenny told the Sunday Independent: "We are looking at Dublin. There is an opportunity for patient money there." Willett is a long-term property investor and usually looks for multi-tenant assets, which it retains for a period of seven-to-10 years.

WK Nowlan and Willett declined to comment on their new joint venture.

Sunday Independent

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