Monday 11 December 2017

Gym-owner Ben Dunne sues Jim Mansfield over land deal

Jim Mansfield
Jim Mansfield
Businessman Ben Dunne. Photo: Damien Eagers

Roisin Burke

GYM empire owner and former Dunnes Stores boss Ben Dunne is pursuing developer Jim Mansfield in the courts for a €400,000 debt he claims is owed to him.

Dunne says that a charge in his favour is registered against Co Dublin land in relation to the money, which Mr Mansfield is understood to have borrowed to settle another debt.

A court hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, believed to relate to acquiring permission to sell the land.

"I don't want to be doing this," said Mr Dunne. "This was a purely business transaction and there has been no attempt made to pay. Business is business at the end of the day and €400,000 is a lot of money."

Mr Mansfield, the former owner of the Citywest complex which was recently sold to a Swiss-based consortium for €27m, did not respond to phone calls or voicemail messages requesting comment.

Mr Dunne said he was expanding his gym business, with a new 23,000 sq ft facility to open in the heart of Manchester later this year. "Business is flat in Ireland but booming in the UK," he said. "The UK is coming out of recession, it's very evident."

Unlike many wealthy Irish figures, he said he had no interest in getting back into the property market, having sold his entire commercial property portfolio to developer solicitor Noel Smyth back in 2004.

"We can rent for €4-€5 per square foot with rent raises capped at 2 per cent and decent leases and breaks, so it's cheaper than buying," he said. "I was never interested in property – the word 'landlord' never appealed to me.

"I bought the former Eircom headquarters on O'Connell Street for around €5m, invested €12m and then sold it for over €30m. I hate to think what it would be worth now.

"I like the cut and thrust of real business and selling, not watching a ticker or values and speculating," he said.

His fitness empire employs more than 1,030 people and has a customer base of around 50,000, with seven gyms in Ireland including a massive space in Cherrywood, Co Dublin, and two outlets in Britain with the third opening in April and further locations planned.

Last financials for the Ben Dunne Gyms showed a €1.7m profit. The business is backed with around €15m of Dunne's own money.

Irish Independent

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