Tuesday 16 October 2018

Ritz sold for €1m and debts wiped

Five-star hangout of Celtic Tiger tycoons, which was never full, is set to re-open in October

ritz carlton powerscourt
ritz carlton powerscourt
Rosanna Davison
Johnny Ronan(L) and Richard Barrett

Daniel McConnell, Ronald Quinlan

WHEN it rose out of a hollow in the Powerscourt estate in Co Wicklow, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel became one of the enduring symbols of the Celtic Tiger.

It was built by the one-time titans of Irish property, Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett of Treasury Holdings, but now Ronan's former 'palace' in the Wicklow Hills will be no more, as details of the hotel's change of ownership have emerged.

The Sunday Independent has confirmed that the 200-room resort "showcasing Palladian-style architecture" – and which has two championship-calibre golf courses and a Gordon Ramsay signature restaurant – has been sold for €1m and had all of its estimated €80m debts wiped.

However, last night a spokesman for Brehon Capital Partners (BCP) disputed that sale figure, saying it was "way off".

From October 1, the hotel will cease to be a Ritz-Carlton but will continue to trade as an "up-scale independent luxury hotel".

It will be managed by Interstate, which also manages the plush new Marker Hotel in Dublin's Grand Canal Square.

In a statement last night, BCP confirmed its plans to operate the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, which it acquired in March.

"While remaining within the Marriott International family of brands, the hotel will become part of the Autograph Collection, Marriott International's exclusive portfolio of passionately independent hotels," the statement said.

"The hotel will relaunch as an Autograph hotel on October 1, with Interstate Hotels and Resorts taking over the day-to-day management. Interstate currently manages the Marker Hotel, the Dublin city-centre property owned by Brehon Capital Partners."

The head of BCP and Midwest Holdings is businessman Kevin McGillicuddy. Brehon Capital is a Dublin-based private-equity firm specialising in real estate on behalf of private and institutional investors.

Mr McGillicuddy spearheaded the joint-venture with Midwest Holdings, an American real estate firm, to develop the €130m Marker Hotel and Brasserie complex.

The Powerscourt property will remain as a five-star hotel, and staff will keep their jobs.

Interstate is the world's biggest independent hotel-management company, with 300 properties under management and a significant presence in both the UK and Ireland.

A source familiar with the matter said: "The real story is that they bought it for f**k all."

In February, Nama sold its €47m debt in the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt in Enniskerry to Ranieri Real Estate, the US property-investment company. That month, the hotel went into liquidation after failing to navigate a 100-day examinership period.

An independent accountant's report revealed that occupancy rates have been only 40 per cent since it opened its doors in 2007.

The KPMG report shows that the hotel lost €19.4m in 2007 and €12m in both 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, when it had an occupancy rate of only 41 per cent – compared with the market average of 61 per cent – it lost €9.5m.

It was at the Ritz-Carlton that former Miss World Rosanna Davison enjoyed a boozy evening with developer Johnny Ronan before they headed off to Morocco on his private jet in 2010.

"It was a Sunday and I was asked in for a business meeting in the Ritz-Carlton,' said Ms Davison.

"I met these two guys for lunch. I had my car with me, so I wasn't going to have a drink, but they ordered wine and told me, 'It's okay, we'll make sure you get a lift home later.'

"I wasn't working the next day, so I decided I'd collect my car in the morning.

"So we finished up the meeting and then moved to the Ritz-Carlton pub, McGills."

She said Johnny Ronan then turned up and one of the guys left.

"So it was the three of us – me, Johnny and this guy he knew, a friend of his."

Ms Davison texted her friend Sarah Leckie, also from Enniskerry, and she joined them in the pub.

"It got to about 12.30 or so and we'd all had quite a few drinks at this stage, I won't lie, and somebody suggested that we'd go somewhere else because the staff wanted to close the bar.

"Johnny suggested that we go somewhere on the jet because it was on stand-by, and then my friend Sarah said, 'Oh, I've never been to Marrakech, let's go to Morrocco', so it all seemed like a fabulous idea at the time."

They went to their respective houses for their passports and overnight bags and ended up in Morrocco by seven in the morning.

Ms Davison said she knew nothing of Mr Ronan's fight with his ex, Glenda Gilson, in Ranelagh until they were actually in Morocco.

"I don't regret any aspect of the trip," she said. "I don't regret the spontaneity of it. I found it liberating. I found it exciting. I really believe in grasping every opportunity in life, and when you're faced with that sort of opportunity you don't stop and think, 'Oh, God, will there be dire consequences?'"

In 2009, Ronan's son, James, then a student at DIT, had his very own coming-of-age extravaganza in the Ritz-Carlton.

At the time, Ronan's wealth was listed as €239m and, like the rest of this emerging class of swaggering alpha-male developers, he wasn't shy about spending it.

"He likes the big price tags," is how one acquaintance put it. That meant fine wines such as Cheval Blanc and Lynch Bages, fine foods, expensive cars (along with his trademark Maybach, he has had a metallic blue Hummer and a two-door gull-wing Mercedes SLR) and important art, with a collection once valued at €10m.

Sunday Independent

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