Sunday 15 September 2019

Russia's richest woman targets €60m Westin hotel

Baturina looks to widen Irish property portfolio

OLIGARCH: Elena Baturina at the Morrison Hotel in Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
OLIGARCH: Elena Baturina at the Morrison Hotel in Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Roisin Burke

Russia's richest woman has her sights trained on investing in the Irish housing market recovery and is seeking to add another hotel to her Irish interests.

In an exclusive interview in today's Sunday Independent Business section, the billionaire owner of the Morrison Hotel in Dublin said that she will look at the Nama five-star Westin hotel, set to come to market shortly.

"I'd really like to look at it," she said. Set to be priced in the €60m range, the former Treasury-owned hotel is expected to attract strong attention from overseas buyers.

As Nama and several banks consider housing loan portfolio sales, Ms Baturina and her advisers are monitoring the prospects.

"I'm keeping a very close eye on housing and offices," she said. "I haven't yet decided to enter that market but I keep a constant eye on that."

Ms Baturina and her husband Yury Luzhkov, the former Moscow mayor and once a major Russian power figure and Kremlin insider, are also considering acquiring farming land in Ireland. "If we have an opportunity to do it in Ireland we would," she said.

She recently folded at final bid stage on another Irish hotel – the €35m-valued Trinity Capital Hotel. "We just didn't think it was right to up the bid. We are very interested still, we're monitoring the situation. If anything interesting comes up we'll definitely look at it," she said.

She doesn't think the market here has overheated for investors yet. "No, no, there is still potential and it's still interesting for me. I think the Irish market is getting more and more attractive. Housing prices are going up, office prices are going up."

She may seek a partner for joint venture investments. "At the moment I am only working with bank credit and my own money. But if it will be necessary to increase the amount of investment then I will seek partners."

She is pleased with how the Morrison Hotel is operating. "I think that restoring this hotel we've managed to keep its soul and even underline its musical past.

"The Morrison was where bands always stayed, so in decorating the rooms they've used lyrics from the music of different bands who stayed in those rooms."

She has ambitious plans to expand her property empire. "I think I will continue what I'm doing both in terms of development. We are widening our presence in Europe, the UK, and we're considering establishing the same development branch in the US."

While some investors privately say they find Nama opaque and bureaucratic to deal with during bidding processes, she has no such complaints. "I found the experience really very comfortable, the conditions were completely transparent, there were not very complicated procedures. I didn't find it bureaucratic. Or if so, someone else had to deal with all of that!"

She praised the stringent measures taken by the Irish Government for getting out of recession. "It was shock therapy for the time being but it brought the results that everybody wanted."

Sunday Indo Business

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