Fota buy first of many?

The Thai-Chinese billionaire who is buying the 500-acre Fota Resort for more than €20m is likely to make further Irish investments — and spend heavily on Fota, guaranteeing its future and jobs.

The Fota deal, wrapping up on behalf of Nama, is Munster’s largest investment purchase, and comes hot on the heels of Dublin’s Burlington Hotel’s €67m purchase by overseas buyers Blackstone a week ago.

At least half a dozen serious international bids (at least two from Asia, and one local consortium) were made on the Munster jewel Fota, to receivers PwC, agents Maurice Cohalan, of Cohalan Downing, and Marcus Magnier, of Colliers International (who’ve a Hong Kong office.) It culminated in a ‘best and final offers’ request in autumn, with due diligence carried out.

But, as several bidders went public on their offers, the surprise buyer, Dr Chanchai Ruayrungruang, of Beijing-based Reignwood Group — represented by Peter O’Meara, of Savills in Cork — operated under the radar, despite making two private-jet visits to Cork.

He first visited almost a year ago, with family, with a follow-up dawn visit, arriving in Cork airport and visiting Fota to meet with key resort personnel, leaving again by 11am, as Fota’s day business got into full swing. Having now done business in Ireland, he’s expected to eye up other investment opportunities, particularly in the hospitality sector.

Born in Thailand, and a Chinese citizen, self-made billionaire (Forbes puts his personal wealth at $1.1 bn as of October), Dr Chanchai who has a Chinese name, Yan Bin, founded the Reignwood Group in 1984: it includes recent hotel investments in London with a 120-bed hotel under construction, and a Fairmont Hotel in Beijing, but its centrepiece is a sprawling, 54-hole golf course, Reignwood Pine Valley Golf Resort, near Beijing, designed by Jack Nicklaus, with polo, villas, and a five-star hotel. Reignwood’s other interests include oil exploration, green energy, aviation/helicopters, real estate, and consumer goods, including manufacturing Red Bull.

Reignwood has a stated aim of acquiring signature properties in key locations around the world, including development of seven new ‘eco-resorts.’

Fota Resort was developed by John Fleming at a cost of €90m, and this week’s €20m-plus Fota purchase — “at a very advanced stage of negotiation,” according to sources — sees the Chinese buyer getting a five-star hotel, 54 holiday lodges, 27 golf holes and clubhouse, all on 500 acres in Cork harbour, within a 15-minute drive of the city.

Details: Cohalan Downing, 021-4277717; Colliers International, 01-6333700; Savills: 021-42713711;

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