Wednesday 18 September 2019

Hazelwood could become distillery

Paul Deering

A Dublin-based entrepreneur in his 40s has brought Hazelwood House and the adjoining factory site which he wants to turn it into a leading tourist attraction.

David Raethorne, who has a background in software and healthcare, told The Sligo Champion he plans to create a tourism business there similar to Powerscourt in County Wicklow.

Mr Raethorne took possession of the keys yesterday morning and he has already held talks with the County Council and the Hazelwood House Heritage Society about his future plans.

He says he is being supported by family and investors in previous businesses. He hopes to restore the house, a protected structure, and re-open it to the public in due course.

"Remedial works, under the guidance of the council, will begin in the New Year," said a spokeswoman for the Council.

Mr Raethorne said he has no concrete plans yet for the site but that he had a number of ideas, all of which were tourist related.

"It's something that's going to take a bit of time. Whatever we will do, we will do it right and it will be tourist related," he said.

He added: "One of the ideas we have been toying around with is a distillery. We have certainly talked about that.

"It would be on the craft side if we do anything along those lines rather than industrial.

"At this stage though it's one of a long list of possibilities for the property," he said.

Mr Raethorne was a founder of Helix Health, the largest indigenous healthcare software company in Ireland. He was also involved in the Smiles Dental Group.

The former Saehan factory has some 300,000 square metres, A key factor in the location of a new business at Hazelwood has been Sligo's infrastructure with the widening of Hughes' Bridge seen as a positive.

It is believed progress has been made on the cleaning up of the site from an environmental point of view. The Environmental Protection Agency has been engaged and somewhere in the region of €40,000 would need to be spend by the new owners in this regard.

The sale of the property has been welcomed by the Hazelwood Heritage Society which was set up to try to save the historic house from falling into ruin. It was built in 1731.

A factory was opened there in 1969 when an Italian company, Snia was set up with 500 workers. It produced nylon yarn and closed in 1983 with the factory being sold on four years later to Korean firm, Saehan Media which manufactured video tapes. It closed in 2005.

In 2007 there were plans by a local company, Foresthaze to build houses and apartments there but this never got approval.

The property went on the market in May 2014 when the asking price was €700,000, this being reduced to €550,000 in August.

Auctioneer Ken Draper said the property was sold for more than the asking price.

Sligo Champion