DEVELOPER Sean Dunne has surrendered a significant stake of his prime Ballsbridge hotel sites to the banks that helped him splash out €379m on the properties at the height of the boom.
The businessman has been battling for years to turn the Jurys Hotel, Towers Hotel and Berkeley Court Hotel into a €1bn-plus development to rival London's plush Knightsbridge precinct.
Those efforts have so far been thwarted by the planning authorities, while the sites have collapsed in value.
Official documents seen by the Irish Independent reveal two companies controlled by Ulster Bank, Dutch lender Rabobank and the UK unit of the fallen Icelandic bank Kaupthing, have taken holdings in the sites of three hotels.
However, documents lodged with the Companies' Office show one of his companies has agreed to continue renting the sites. It is unclear as to what interest -- if any -- Mr Dunne has retained in the properties. He bought the properties back in 2005 in two of the most expensive deals of the boom years.
It is also not known whether the developer, who has personally guaranteed more than €100m of his companies' borrowings, has retained an option to repurchase the banks' stakes in the sites at some stage.
When the Irish Independent asked Mr Dunne for comment yesterday on the apparent changes in the sites' ownership, he issued a statement insisting the hotels continued to trade.
"D4 Hotels has re-energised the hotel industry in Ireland. Through innovation and pragmatism, as well as a considerable commitment to our staff and customers, we have made staying in Dublin more accessible to all," the statement said.
It added: "D4 Hotels is open for business and will continue to be for the long term, providing the most competitive rates and packages in the Dublin hotel market."
Documents lodged with the Companies' Office show that one of Mr Dunne's companies has agreed to continue renting the sites.
Mr Dunne declined to respond to more detailed questions on whether the recent transactions spelled the end for his plans to develop the sites.
It is a year since Bord Pleanala shot down Mr Dunne's hopes to build a high-density office, retail and residential development on the sites, including a 37-storey tower.
Three months ago he was dealt a fresh blow when local councillors unanimously recommended refusal of Mr Dunne's revised proposals for the property. Dublin City Council has since asked him for further information on his second application.
Mr Dunne paid nearly €54m per acre for the site of the Jurys Hotel and The Towers Hotel in late 2005 from the Jurys Doyle Hotel Group. A few months later, he carried out the €57m-an-acre purchase of the adjoining Berkeley Court Hotel.
All have since been rebranded under the D4 Hotels banner.
Mr Dunne's audacious purchase of the sites followed close on a high-stakes takeover battle for control of the entire Jurys Doyle Hotel Group, which was won by three daughters of the hotel's founder PV Doyle.
Mr Dunne and rival Liam Carroll each built up massive shareholdings in the group at the time, before selling out to the Doyle sisters.
The sisters went on to sell the two key Ballsbridge sites to the high-profile developer.
Ulster Bank bankrolled both deals, before bringing Rabobank, which owns ACC Bank in Ireland, and Kaupthing in on the deal.
As all three lenders are foreign owned, the development will not be transferred to the National Asset Management Agency. All of the banks involved declined to comment.
Ulster Bank is believed to have previously taken a massive writedown on Mr Dunne's loans. The loans are understood to have been bundled, along with other development loans, into a new "non-core" division set up by the bank last summer. It plans to either sell off, restructure or write off the quarantined loans in the unit.