Sunday 18 March 2018

Billionaire tried to pay top dollar for Chicago Spire

We did approach Nama, insists Galway tycoon

Artist's rendering of the Chicago skyline as it would appear with the 150-story spire in the centre.
Artist's rendering of the Chicago skyline as it would appear with the 150-story spire in the centre.

Roisin Burke

Irish property magnate Andy Ruhan has claimed that his company was prepared to offer €69m for the Chicago Spire loan which would have repaid the loan in full and was €42m more than the final sale price.

"We did approach Nama with a view to purchasing the loan," Ruhan told the Sunday Independent during a phone call last week.

"No offer for €69m was received by the sales agent," Nama's spokesman however said in a statement.

"Each potential purchaser was treated in the same way and the same rules of engagement applied in what was an open market process conducted by Jones Lang La Salle. The best UNCONDITIONAL offer was accepted by Nama on the recommendation of JLL after an open marketing process," Nama said by email.

However Ruhan, a wealthy investor with a respected track record, maintains that his offer, a full redeeming of the loan note, was very much what was on the table and that he met with Nama on it.

Considered to be one of the most successful property developers in Britain, Ruhan has looked at two other Nama- related acquisitions stateside and has backed high-end projects in Miami and Manhattan.

The massive motorsports fan is also an investor and on the board of the Lotus Formula 1 team where Kimi Räikkönen is lead driver.

"It was explained to us by Nama that we would be unable to access the data room if we had had discussions with Garrett Kelleher," Ruhan said. The data room is the all important information motherlode associated with the project – essential kit for any bidder.

Nama's representative said: "It is normal practice during a loan sales process that a confidentiality agreement be signed by potential purchasers seeking to get access to the relevant loan and security data."

"The confidentiality conditions preclude a potential purchaser from engaging with a debtor once the formal sales process has begun and for the duration of that process only, that is, a limited period of usually up to three months. After the sale, this condition no longer applies," he continued.

"A new loan note holder is free to decide on the future management of the loan or underlying property post-disposal by Nama and Nama has no legal right to intervene further," he added.

Liaising with Kelleher, the man who started the ambitious Chicago skyscraper project in 2008 and who knows the project best, made sense to Ruhan.

"We remained of the view at the time that he had knowledge of other matters which would have a bearing on the loan, and so we felt we needed his input. We felt that those discussions would only enhance value.

"We openly confirmed to Nama that we had discussions with Garrett Kelleher," he said.

"Garrett, I believe, was actively encouraging any party to repay the loans. There was an active reason for him to be involved. We had no formal or informal arrangement with him and neither did he seek one, profit share or otherwise."

Ruhan emphasised that he respects the "legitimate concern" Nama might have about borrower involvement. "I can understand that certain rules need to be maintained, but what hasn't been explained to me is why the rule means less value in a resulting sale," he said.

"I do believe Nama has a difficult role and has to make value judgements on public perception and adverse publicity."

The Irish passport holder spent his childhood in Co Galway near Athenry until he was 10 years old, when his family moved to Birmingham. He spent each summer back in Ireland on a family farm.

Last year his company, Sentrum, sold three British data centres to US firm Digital Realty for €838m.

Ruhan got his break as a property investor in 1998 when he bought the former 'Financial Times' print works in East London and turned it into a telecoms data centre.

A keen amateur sportscar racer, he won the GT Cup championship in 2011.

Kelleher meanwhile has also become a Hollywood producer and is making a new movie called Price of Desire.

Pop star Alanis Morissette is signed up to play a key role in the film.

Irish Independent

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