DUBLIN'S largest hotel has been sold to the world's largest hotel company for €67m, or just one-fifth of the price paid five years ago.
The Burlington Hotel, which has played host to countless GAA and rugby events as well as weddings and parties since the 1970s, was sold to US venture capital fund Blackstone after Bank of Scotland (Ireland) took control of the hotel from failed developer Bernard McNamara, who paid €288m for the building in 2007.
The hotel sale is the biggest since the economy collapsed in 2008 and shows that foreign hotel operators are slowly beginning to look at Ireland now that property prices have returned to normal levels and room occupancy rates have improved.
That's good news for taxpayers, who own many of the country's hotels through NAMA. Seven investors vied to buy the hotel and bidding went to two rounds.
Tim Fenn, the president of the Irish Hotels Federation, said the sale was good news for the hotel sector.
"It's good to see that the trend is reversing and hotels are returning to hotel operators," he said.
Blackstone, which owns the Hilton brand and a string of other brands, said that it planned to spend €16m to refurbish the 500-bedroom hotel.
The new owner is also expected to improve the foyer and the Club Annabel's nightclub.
Blackstone already operates three Hilton Hotels in Dublin and a Conrad Hilton.
The Irish Independent understands that the Burlington will be marketed as a DoubleTree hotel, a Hilton brand that focuses on four-star hotels and includes more than 220 hotels across the world with 55,000 rooms.
The acquisition "demonstrates our strong confidence in Ireland's economic recovery," Blackstone's Ken Caplan said.
The sale was negotiated by Paul Collins of CBRE Hotels on behalf of Grant Thornton receiver Paul McCann.
Mr Collins said: "Blackstone's investment represents a huge vote of confidence, not just in Ireland's economic future but in the future of the Irish tourist industry and the country's vital hotel sector."
The Burlington is one of Europe's biggest city-centre hotels and occupies a 3.8-acre site in Dublin 4.
The hotel opened in 1972 and is affectionately known as the 'Burlo'.
A joint venture between Mr McNamara and Bank of Scotland (Ireland) was granted planning permission in 2008 for a €1bn redevelopment that included the Burlington site.
Mr McNamara had also bought adjoining land from German insurer Allianz.
That dream ended when the economy collapsed.
The hotel briefly closed in January 2008, but it reopened later the same year.
It is estimated to be generating between €5m and €6m a year in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, which is a standard measure to identify the financial health of a business.